American Forces Press Service

Anaconda Is Success; Enemy Killed Unknown, Say Officials

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 15, 2002 -- Senior DoD leaders today called Operation Anaconda a success, while noting the difficulty to fully ascertain enemy losses as the campaign continues to wind down.

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Pentagon reporters that the two-week-old Operation Anaconda campaign against al Qaeda and Taliban troops in eastern Afghanistan was "highly successful."

U.S., coalition and allied Afghan forces are now making final sweeps of the mountainous region "looking into the caves that have been uncovered and those types of things," Pace said. About 1,000 U.S. and coalition forces remain in the 65-square-mile area of operations, he estimated.

"The enemy forces that were there, to the best of our ability to monitor, are not there now," the general noted. "Some have been killed. Some have escaped. We don't know the exact numbers.

"But, I think from the standpoint of a military operation - - the intent to go in and to take this area in Afghanistan and to clear it of Taliban and al Qaeda -- has been highly successful to date," Pace added.

Some military officials have estimated that hundreds of al Qaeda and Taliban troops were killed in Anaconda fighting in the Shahi Khot region, but Rumsfeld and Pace noted the difficulty of obtaining an accurate number of enemy killed.

"There are clearly a lot of people willing to guess at those numbers. I'm not one of them," Rumsfeld said. "We can't yet know how many (al Qaeda and Taliban) fighters or bodies are still in the caves that have not been searched, or how many dead al Qaeda were buried, which is, of course, their custom to do that very rapidly.

"Nor can we know precisely how many have escaped," the secretary continued, adding that "very few" al Qaeda or Taliban have surrendered in Afghanistan.

Rumsfeld said progress in one area of Afghanistan "does not mean that we can relax elsewhere." Pockets of Taliban and al Qaeda fighters are still in Afghanistan, he explained.

Other terrorists who'd escaped across Afghanistan's borders would like to come back, the secretary noted.

"They are determined to attack U.S. military forces and U.S. interests in Afghanistan, and elsewhere, to attempt to show their strength," Rumsfeld said.

The United States is "making good progress" in achieving outlined anti-terror war objectives in Afghanistan, Rumsfeld noted. The Taliban are no longer in power in Afghanistan and that country is no longer a haven for al Qaeda terrorists, he said.

It's also important to ensure "the well-trained terrorists who left Afghanistan do not set up sanctuaries in other nations," the secretary said. As a means to this end, Rumsfeld said, the United States is providing training and equipment to other governments that are threatened by terrorists within their borders, such as the Philippines and Yemen.

To questions about the establishment of a presidentially ordered special commission to try captured terrorists, Rumsfeld said location and committee memberships haven't been decided.

"We have, however, pretty much completed the work as to how the commissions, generally, will be conducted in the event someone is ultimately appointed to be tried by a commission," he added.

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