Brig. Gen. John Rosa told reporters at the Pentagon, ”Operation Anaconda is complete.”
Rosa said U.S. forces have searched some 30 caves in the eastern Shah-e-Kot region, where some of the operation’s battles reached altitudes of 11,000 feet. He told reporters that 500 coalition members are still searching caves in the area.
Earlier Monday, Gen. Tommy Franks, chief of U.S. operations in Afghanistan, hailed Operation Anaconda as “an unqualified and absolute success.”
Some Afghan allies, though, have said U.S. victory claims may be overstated. One Afghan commander, Abdul Wali Zardran, said many enemy fighters fled during the 17-day offensive.
“Americans don’t listen to anyone,” Zardran told Reuters. “They do what they want. Most people escaped. You can’t call that a success.”
Rosa told reporters the U.S. operation got al-Qaida fighters “on the run. … Did we shut down their entire communications? No. But it makes it much more difficult for them to do that.”
The war against al-Qaida will go on, despite Operation Anaconda’s end, Franks said from Afghanistan where he is meeting with U.S. military leaders and awarding Bronze Star medals to soldiers.
“We still have additional work to do,” Franks said during a news conference at the Bagram airbase near Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital.
“There is the possibility the al-Qaida will regroup and there might be places we have not identified,” Franks said. He would not speculate where the U.S. may send troops next, but said succeeding operations are “likely to be the same size as Anaconda.”
Rosa confirmed U.S. forces in helicopters killed 16 people in a suspected al-Qaida convoy. U.S. forces had fired warning shots to force the vehicles to stop, but people in the three-vehicle convoy fired back, he said. A fourth vehicle traveling a distance behind the convoy was also stopped. U.S. forces determined the occupants were noncombatants and allowed them to go free. No U.S. casualties were reported.
In a separate incident, U.S. officials said allied troops had captured 31 suspected al-Qaida or Taliban fighters holed up in a compound west of the southern city of Kandahar, along with weapons and ammunition.
Meanwhile, Britain announced it will send a 1,700-person infantry battle group to Afghanistan. British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said the group would be fully integrated with U.S. forces and will be ready by April to “support the wider coalition war against terrorism.” The move is Britain’s largest combat deployment since the Gulf War.