- Joint U.S.-Afghan military operation hit al Qaeda in southern Afghanistan over five days
- "We struck a major al Qaeda sanctuary in the center of the Taliban's historic heartland," U.S. general says
- United States conducted 63 airstrikes, military says
The operation left "numerous" militants dead, the military said in a statement. The operation kicked off Wednesday evening in the Shorabak district of Afghanistan's Kandahar province, and continued through Sunday.
"We struck a major al Qaeda sanctuary in the center of the Taliban's historic heartland," said Brig. Gen. Wilson Shoffner, a U.S. spokesman in Afghanistan.
The Taliban established its presence in the region by capturing the city of Kandahar soon after the group was formed in 1994. Three years later, Taliban leader Mullah Omar forged a relationship with al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who moved his base of operations to Kandahar.
After the September 11, 2001, attacks, the United States invaded Afghanistan and dislodged the Taliban government that had sheltered bin Laden and al Qaeda, which orchestrated the terrorism. A U.S.-led-coalition has battled the Taliban for years, since a new Afghan government took charge.
In the most recent offensive, "The U.S. conducted 63 precision airstrikes while Afghan forces engaged in several battles on the ground against al Qaeda networks at two related sites," the U.S. military said.
One target was a "well-established training camp" that spanned about 1 square mile; the second site covered almost 30 square miles, the military said.
Initial reports indicate the operation seized heavy weapons, bomb-making material and intelligence data, the military said.
The United States has nearly 10,000 troops remaining in Afghanistan, down from a high of more than 100,000 in June 2011.
President Barack Obama has slowed the pace of plans
to cut the current 9,800-strong U.S. force in Afghanistan to 5,500 by the end of the year.
The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Campbell, told the Senate Armed Services Committee
last week that he needed to adjust troop level recommendations based on an uptick in insurgent activity, an increased al Qaeda presence and signs ISIS might also be targeting the country.