Coalition, Afghan Forces Attack Al Qaeda-Taliban Enclave
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 3, 2002 A U.S. soldier and three Afghan fighters have been killed in heavy fighting south of the Afghan city of Gardez, U.S. Central Command officials reported today.
Defense officials said Afghan and coalition forces have been attacking a concentration of Al Qaeda and non-Afghan Taliban forces. Pentagon spokesman Air Force Brig. Gen. John Rosa said Mar. 1 that a few hundred Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters were using the area to regroup.
U.S. Central Command officials characterized some of the firefights as "intense." The forces targeted vehicles, cave complexes, enemy troop concentrations and anti-aircraft artillery sites.
An unspecified number of U.S. and Afghan forces have been injured in the operation. Central Command officials said the injured received emergency medical care and were either returned to their units or evacuated to medical facilities. None of the injuries to U.S. personnel are life- threatening.
There is no word on Al Qaeda or Taliban casualties.
Pentagon officials said the attacking force is primarily Afghan, but that coalition military forces are also involved, including U.S. special operations and conventional troops. Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany and Norway are also taking part in the operation.
Coalition aircraft have dropped more than 270 bombs on the Al Qaeda-Taliban concentration, including a laser-guided "thermobaric" bomb on a cave complex. If effective, the modified fuel-air explosive would have "vacuumed" the air from the complex. It is too early to say if the bomb worked, Central Command officials said. Coalition air strikes continue.
U.S. Apache attack helicopters have been damaged by small- arms fire, but no aircraft have been shot down.
The battle near Gardez is the largest in Afghanistan since the assault on the Tora Bora cave complex in December. The fight is in a snow-covered, mountainous area with elevations running from 8,200 feet to 11,500.
The operation against the Al Qaeda concentration began March 1. Afghan Generals Zia, Kamal Khan Zadran and Zakim Khan are leading their forces in the main effort.