Afghanistan: March 19, 2002

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Britain is sending 1700 combat troops to assist the American led effort to fight remaining al Qaeda and Taliban forces in southeast Afghanistan. This force will include Royal Marine Commandos. There is also fear that small groups of armed Taliban are hiding out city neighborhoods. These men are probably not as well armed as the al Qaeda fought at Tora Bora and outside Gardez, and are probably present in smaller numbers. Rooting these men out would endanger a lot more civilians.

Many suspicious groups are being watched electronically and via airborne cameras, plus scouts on the ground. When it seems pretty certain that the suspects are Taliban or al Qaeda, the troops go in. This is one reason for the need of the additional British troops. In the past few months, thousands of American military intelligence reservists have been called to active duty to deal with the flood of information being collected in Afghanistan. The documents collected after battles with Taliban and al Qaeda provide additional information about where other enemy fighters may be concentrating.

Even though Operation Anaconda is officially over, some 500 coalition troops and some local Afghans continue to search the caves outside Gardez. At it's peak, there were some 2,000 coalition and Afghan troops fighting 500-1000 al Qaeda and Taliban. Coalition casualties were about a hundred, with only a dozen dead. The new body armor used by American (and some Afghan troops) prevented a lot of fatalities. These "flak jackets" can take a rifle bullet (older gear only protected you from shell fragments), but will knock you down and leave a nasty bruise (and, technically, you are still "wounded.") Over a hundred enemy bodies were found, but many more enemy dead were thought to be blown to pieces by the 2,000 or so large bombs dropped during the 17 day battle, or buried in caves. Estimates of enemy dead go as high as 800, but the exact number will never be known. The enemy did not keep records of all the men they had up in the hills. Many documents that might have allowed a list to be compiled, were destroyed in the bombing during the battle. In similar battles like this during World War II (Okinawa and Iwo Jima), where the enemy did have records survive showing how many troops were in action, less than half the enemy dead were found after the battle. During those World War II battles against fanatical enemy troops fighting from caves, American attackers had a lot less firepower at their disposal. Still, it would appear that the enemy dead were more like 500 or so. Only about 20 prisoners were taken, and interrogating them and examining surviving documents may provide a better idea of who was there.

Even as Operation Anaconda winds down, similar, but smaller, operations take place in the same region. In one case, special forces stopped a truck convoy 70 kilometers south of Gardez and, after a gun battle, two fighters were captured while 16 other died and much ammunition was taken. A walled house outside Kandahar was raided by U.S. troops. Much ammunition and weapons were seized and 31 people arrested.

 

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