Troops Taking Fight to Al Qaeda in Eastern Afghanistan
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 4, 2002 Between 800 and 900 U.S. servicemen are taking the war to the Al Qaeda and Taliban in the Shahi Khot region of Afghanistan, said Army Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of U.S. Central Command.
Franks, speaking in a Tampa, Fla., video teleconference with local and Washington news reporters, said soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division of Fort Drum. N.Y., and the 101st Airborne (Air Mobile) Division of Fort Campbell, Ky., and Special Forces soldiers are taking part in Operation Anaconda. He said U.S. forces are joined by a like number of Afghan fighters and about 200 special operations troops from Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, France and Norway. Army Maj. Gen. Franklin Hagenbeck of the 10th Mountain commands.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said during an earlier press briefing that nine Americans have died in the action so far, but Franks was less certain. He said the death toll may be eight or nine and that "some of the fog of war" would have to dissipate before officials know the toll for sure.
The U.S. casualties came early in the operation. First, a rocket-propelled grenade hit a U.S. MH-47 Chinook helicopter as it approached a landing zone. The pilot lost control and, officials said, it appears a soldier fell from the aircraft. The MH-47 flew to another LZ and determined the soldier was missing.
At about the same time, a second MH-47 helicopter was landing in an area fairly close to the first. It came under small arms fire. The chopper made a hard landing and immediately came under small-arms fire from Al Qaeda positions. The soldiers disembarked from the helo and returned fire. Another search and rescue helicopter landed and more soldiers joined in the fight. The situation was fluid. The teams "exfiltrated" March 4, Franks said.
Shahi Khot is in Paktia Province, a stronghold of the Taliban and Al Qaeda before Sept. 11 and a natural place for them to try to regroup, DoD officials said.
Coalition commanders had been observing the area for weeks, Franks said, and they decided Al Qaeda and some Taliban hardliners were trying to regroup.
He said coalition forces have surrounded the area. Afghan troops are in blocking positions around what has been termed "Objective Remington." U.S. forces are attacking Al Qaeda and Taliban concentrations. He said the objective is in snow-covered, mountainous terrain ranging from 8,500 to 12,000 feet above sea level. He said temperatures are in the teens.
He estimated the number of enemy dead at 150 to 200. He said the enemy is dug in and has small arms, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and some man-portable anti-aircraft capability.
Franks said he is proud of the way U.S. soldiers in the operation are performing. He said the equipment is also working well. In addition to personal and squad weapons, U.S. troops can call on mortars and a full range of airborne ordnance delivered by A-10s, F-15s, B-1B, AC-130 gunships and French aircraft.
He said the United States and its coalition partners will continue to operation until the Al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists are captured or wiped out. Franks would put no date on when the operation would end. He did say other operations like this would be needed as other pockets of Al Qaeda and Taliban are found.