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Anaconda Ending; Defense Looks at Combat Air Patrols

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 18, 2002 – Operation Anaconda will end today, Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clarke told reporters here this morning.

Calling the operation south of Gardez, Afghanistan, very successful, Clarke said the end of Anaconda does not mean combat in Afghanistan is over. She said U.S. officials fully expect to find other pockets of al Qaeda or Taliban resistance and that there will be other firefights.

The operation was designed to find and root out a relatively large pocket of al Qaeda and Taliban fighters. U.S., Afghan and coalition troops have searched the caves in the area and found caches of ammunition and arms. Like other operations, Anaconda also surfaced intelligence, documents and information that may be useful in future operations and in preventing future terrorist attacks, Clarke said.

She said as tight as Anaconda's coils were that a small number of al Qaeda and Taliban probably managed to escape. "It's quite probable, given the very porous border, that some may have escaped across, but if they have it's been in the ones and twos," she said. "We have not seen nor do we have evidence that there were any large numbers."

Clarke turned the conversation with reporters to domestic combat air patrols that have been flown over major U.S. cities since Sept. 11. She said defense officials are looking at a plan that will employ a mix of steady patrols, intermittent patrols and different levels of strip alerts.

"It will be a very fluid mix that we can and will adjust as the threat conditions demand," she said. She said President Bush has been briefed on the proposal.

North American Aerospace Defense Command officials said the current rate of combat air patrols are not needed for the threat situation that exists today. They also said increased operations and personnel tempos are wearing out people and planes.

Clarke said the proposed changes would "more accurately reflect the current environment." She said the heightened awareness of the need for homeland defense and improvements made in airport and airliner safety and security since Sept. 11 call for this type of change.

NORAD officials described a strip alert as aircraft "waiting on the runway with engines running, ready to go." Other levels of alert would be implemented as needed, they said.

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