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Operation Anaconda Enters Exploitation Phase

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 14, 2002 – With the fighting around Gardez dying down, Operation Anaconda has entered the "exploitation phase," Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clarke said March 14.

Roughly 1,000 U.S., Afghan and Canadian troops are entering al Qaeda and Taliban caves in the Anaconda area of operations, she said. The going is slow because troops must check the caves for booby traps and mines as they investigate.

DoD officials said the troops are finding ammunition, weapons and intelligence information in the caves. "We're going into the area and 'exploiting it' for all the information we can get," said Marine Lt. Col. Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman. "If we find arms and ammunition, we will destroy them. If we find intelligence information, we will add it to what we already know."

Early in the fighting, U.S. soldiers found one al Qaeda site with fake passports and drivers licenses. Later, coalition troops found a bomb factory.

Clarke said coalition jets flew 176 sorties March 13. She said there are 244 detainees in Afghanistan and 300 at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. She spoke about 12 persons detained in western Afghanistan and now being held in Kandahar by U.S. forces. The detainees' identities are ambiguous, she said, adding she couldn't confirm news reports that allege the 12 are Iranians.

She said the administration is making headway on the military commissions that are likely to try some of the detainees.

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