Afghanistan: March 13, 2002


Afghan troops have declared victory over al Qaeda and Taliban forces outside Gardez. After 12 days of fighting, the hills around Gardez are quiet. American special forces have moved into the al Qaeda cave complexes to search for documents and other information for use in the war against terrorism. The caves also contain large quantities of ammunition and weapons. There are apparently other cave complexes in eastern and southern Afghanistan where the Taliban and al Qaeda stockpiled war material. Many of these caves have not been investigated yet, so there may be more battles like Operation Anaconda. 

There were 57 American casualties (including eight dead) in Anaconda, and about as many Afghan (including three dead). Enemy dead were harder to count. American troops recovered the bodies of about a hundred enemy dead, plus about 20 (mostly wounded) prisoners. But many more enemy dead were killed and buried when the entrances of their caves were bombed. Estimates of total enemy dead range from 200 to 500. Another hundred (or more) enemy troops may have slipped away, despite the Afghan and special forces troops deployed to guard the paths and passes leading out of the area.

The U.S. use of warlord troops in Operation Anaconda was not without it's problems. During the initial operations, when a warlord convoy was ambushed and the Afghan troops fled, this was described as a deliberate tactic. According to the U.S. Army, the Afghans were sent in to find out exactly where the al Qaeda troops were and, that done, they were sent to the rear. Other reports indicated that the warlord troops, in traditional Afghan fashion, withdrew in the face of sharp resistance and refused to return to the fight. Three battalions of U.S. troops then went into the mountains and fought the al Qaeda for a week. When one of these battalions was withdrawn and the warlord troops once more sent in to mop up, the warlord leader said that the Americans couldn't handle mountain combat and that his troops were going up the hill to take care of things. Some intrepid reporters, eager for a headline, reported this statement as told, without looking behind the typical bravado of Afghan warlords. 

Another problem with the use of local Afghan troops in Operation Anaconda was that there were also some local guys up in the hills fighting with the Taliban. This, and the initial heavy resistance by enemy troops, led to American forces being used to do the fighting. But a thousand Northern Alliance troops were brought down from Kabul. There was some tension between these non-Pushtun troops and the local Pushtuns, but the Northern Alliance were sent up into the hills. Although just as cautious as all Afghan fighters, the Northern Alliance fighters have a real dislike for Taliban and al Qaeda fighters (who treated non-Pushtun civilians brutally during the years of fighting in the north.)

Speaking of warlords, they are getting themselves organized and entrenched in local politics throughout the country. They make a living by running drug, smuggling and protection rackets. Their troops often take to robbery and rape. The situation is sliding back towards it's pre-Taliban chaos. But it will take months before the interim government can get national police and trained soldiers out in strength. The interim government has been unable to obtain more than about 5,000 foreign peacekeepers, and these stay in the major cities. Things are going to get ugly out in the country side come Springtime. 


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