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U.S. Forces Return Fire in Afghanistan

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 25, 2002 -- U.S. forces returned fire after coming under rocket attack yesterday in Afghanistan, Air Force Brig. Gen. John A. Rosa said today at the Pentagon.

"Some of the forces northeast of Jalalabad received rocket or mortar fire," Rosa said during a news briefing. "U.S. forces responded with their own mortar fire and with close air support by F-18s. There were no U.S. casualties and we're waiting on the battle damage assessment."

U.S. and coalition forces continue to conduct surveillance, intelligence and reconnaissance sweeps throughout Afghanistan. The mission has not changed, Rosa said. It's to find, locate and destroy al Qaeda. "That's what we're currently doing. We're patrolling all over the country."

Operation Mountain Lion continues throughout eastern Afghanistan, the general said. Over the last week or so, U.S. forces have discovered several weapons caches.

"Yesterday, we discovered another one with 107 mm rockets, anti-personnel mines and, this time, even two towed howitzers," he said.

It takes time to screen and sort any enemy fighters that U.S. and coalition forces take into custody, he noted. "The ones that we come across and detain . don't raise their hand right away and say, 'I'm al Qaeda.' They're a little craftier than that."

Pentagon officials have no reports yet on whether those detained over the last week or two are Taliban or al Qaeda. As has happened in the past, Rosa said, many of those detained will be released.

At present, 564 detainees are at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; 83 in U.S. Central Command's area of operations, one in Charleston, S.C.; and one in Norfolk.

The number of al Qaeda and Taliban members still in Afghanistan remains unknown, Rosa said. The large pockets of al Qaeda and Taliban encountered in March are no longer seen, he said. Enemy fighters are now mixed in with the civilian population. Finding them, he said, "is a difficult task, as we thought it would be."

Rosa noted that the Joint Task Force 180 commander recently said in an interview that 400 to 1,000 al Qaeda might be moving in the tribal area near the Afghan border with Pakistan.

Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke noted that at this point, operations in Afghanistan are where defense officials expected them to be.

"We're about where we said we'd be, that the further along you went the harder it was going to be to find the remaining pockets," she said. Officials have said all along that Afghanistan would continue to be a dangerous place and that finding caches of ammunition and the "little spats that ensue are indications of that."

"It is very, very hard work," Clarke said. The al Qaeda and Taliban forces that remain are what Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has called the "dead enders," she said. "It's very hard to find them."

Military action is not the only activity U.S. and international officials are engaged in, Clarke noted. Legal, economic and diplomatic activity is also under way.

"There are arrests going on around the world," she said. "Governments who months ago did not want (much said) about what they were doing in the war on terrorism are now talking publicly."

U.S. officials are working with counterparts around the world to dry up the terrorists' financing, she added. "Secretary Rumsfeld has said so many times that there will be different levels and different kinds of activity. Sometimes you'll see it and sometimes you won't. It doesn't mean a lot of things aren't going on."

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