U.S. Forces Pitted Against Fierce, Battle-Hardened Fighters
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 8, 2002 The Al Qaeda and Taliban "miscalculated" when they attacked the United States, according to U.S. Air Force Gen. John W. Rosa Jr., a Joint Staff spokesman.
"I don't think they ever realized the tenacity with which we would pursue (them) in (Operation) Anaconda," Rosa told reporters at the Pentagon today. U.S., coalition and Afghan forces are systematically sweeping enemy fighters from a 60-square-mile area.
"When do we know when there's victory? When there's no one left and there's no more resistance," Rosa said.
Eight U.S. soldiers have been killed in action since the operation began March 2 (Afghan time). About 50 have been wounded. Two or three soldiers have suffered from altitude sickness. Nearly 30 of the wounded have already returned to duty, the general noted.
In the past 24 hours, U.S. and coalition forces have flown more than 200 sorties over Afghanistan and dropped about 75 bombs, he said. Bombers, AC-130 gunships, fighter aircraft and attack helicopters are providing close air support for U.S. and coalition ground forces. U.S. F-15 and F-16 fighter jets have targeted cave entrances, and Al Qaeda, Taliban and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan fighters have dug in to the hills and valleys of eastern Afghanistan.
"We believe there are a couple hundred Al Qaeda fighters remaining in the area," Rosa said. "Over the last 36 hours, we've seen sporadic firings, sporadic fighting."
U.S. military officials have seen evidence that the Al Qaeda and Taliban forces are communicating and that some form of command structure still exists. "These troops are very good," he said. "They have been fighting all of their lives. They know how to fight in that terrain."
The fighting has not been as intense as it was the first day, he said, but it's still a very dangerous place. "As we collapse caves and force them out of their fighting positions, it's very difficult for them to get reorganized."
U.S. Central Command officials believe U.S. and coalition forces have killed several hundred Al Qaeda and former Taliban troops, the general said. Considering the environment, it's difficult to confirm the number of enemy fighters killed, Rosa noted. U.S. military officials don't know how many fighters are in the cave complexes.
"When you go up to an anthill, you don't know how many ants are in there until you disturb the anthill," he said. "When we collapse these caves, we may never know how many people are in there."
The military isn't in the business of doing body counts, Rosa stressed. "Body counts don't win this operational objective. They don't win the 'Battle of Anaconda.'"
In planning for the operation, he said, military leaders try to estimate the enemy's most likely action and the enemy's most dangerous action. "I can tell you that we plan against a wide range of what we think the enemy will do and the worst case," he said.
The overall U.S. objective is to kill or capture all the remaining Al Qaeda and Taliban. "I think we would be nave to believe that this is the last pocket in all of Afghanistan," Rosa said. "It's a vast, vast country. Are all pockets going to be this difficult? We have no way of predicting."