Al Qaeda, Taliban deaths mount in Operation Anaconda
KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- The U.S. Army confirmed Thursday that 450 al Qaeda and Taliban fighters have been killed since Operation Anaconda's launch six days ago, and estimated that as many as 650 may be dead -- more than half the number of fighters thought to have been in place when the battle began.
Eleven allied fighters -- including eight Americans -- have been killed, and about 70 others have been wounded, defense officials said. No U.S. fighters have been killed since Monday, they said.
The operation, taking place about 100 miles (160 kilometers) south of Kabul, is far from done, the Army said Thursday. Operation Anaconda will "go as long as the Taliban don't surrender, or until they're all dead," said Army spokesman Maj. Bryan Hilferty.
Operation Anaconda began Friday night near Gardez, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) south of Kabul. About 1,200 U.S forces are involved, officials said.
The latest casualty report came on a day when storm-swirled dust hindered operations in the mountainous region of east Afghanistan. Despite the conditions, aircraft and ground troops continued moving, with hundreds more U.S. servicemen arriving in the area throughout the day. A new contingent of attack helicopters was expected, too.
An Afghan commander said ground battles in Paktia had effectively cut off al Qaeda and non-Afghan Taliban fighting in the mountains.
"We have blocked all the routes that they were using previously to bring in reinforcements and to supply the troops," said Abdul Matin Hassankhiel. "They are all blocked, and I can assure you that they are all surrounded."
Hilferty said U.S. forces were being patient and careful to make sure they strike the right targets.
"We work very hard and take a long time sometimes to engage a target to make sure that it's not a noncombatant," Hilferty said.
Booby trap kills 3
Some wounded U.S. troops arrived Thursday at Ramstein Air Base in Landstuhl, Germany. They will be treated at the military hospital there.
Nine Americans arrived Wednesday at the facility, along with a Canadian journalist wounded when a grenade was tossed into her car. Also at Ramstein were eight international peacekeepers hurt while they were defusing missiles, an accident that killed five other peacekeepers.
The United States also has captured al Qaeda and Taliban fighters. Specialists are going through equipment and documents seized in the vicinity of the fighting and "learning things from it," Hilferty said.
Operation Anaconda began taking shape after intelligence reports indicated enemy forces were preparing a terrorist attack against Afghanistan's interim government, said Maj. Gen. Frank Hagenbeck, the U.S. operation commander.
Much of the fighting in the operation is at elevations above 11,000 feet, where thin air makes breathing more difficult. The altitude is also near the flight limit for some U.S. combat helicopters, officials said. One official termed the area "an awful place to fight a war."
While the allied and Afghan forces pressed into Paktia's mountains, three Afghan fighters died Thursday in Kandahar, the former Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan. They encountered what commanders believe may have been a booby trap – a box discovered while the three were collecting firewood at Kandahar International Airport. One of them moved the box, which exploded, officials said.
CNN Correspondents Nic Robertson, David Ensor, Martin Savidge and Barbara Starr contributed to this report.
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