WASHINGTON, March 16: The United States does not have a figure for Al Qaeda or Taliban fighters killed in Operation Anaconda in eastern Afghanistan, but believes that there are still pockets of resistance within the country and across its borders.
Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon briefing on Friday afternoon that the operation continued in the area south of Gardez, and coalition forces were for the most part now in an “exploitation phase”, searching caves and clearing areas where the battles and fighting have taken place. They were finding weapons, ammunition, and some intelligence information.
Referring to the discussion on possible Al Qaeda/ Taliban casualties, Mr Rumsfeld said he was not prepared to guess at an estimate. It was not yet possible to know how many fighters or bodies were still in the caves that had not been searched and “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, although we suggest there are people in all of those categories”. What was clear was that very few had surrendered.
The defence secretary said there were still pockets of fighters at a number of locations in Afghanistan, and “certainly there are others just across the various borders of that country that would like to come back. They’re determined to attack US military forces and US interests in Afghanistan and elsewhere to attempt to show their strength”.
Western journalists who had gone into the battle area earlier this week had reported coming across only a handful of bodies.