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Monday, 18 March, 2002, 16:08 GMT
Analysis: Fog of war shrouds US 'victory'
US soldier examines documents from a dead Taleban or al-Qaeda soldier in eastern Afghanistan
The US claims Operation Anaconda is almost complete
test hello test
By the BBC's Jonathan Marcus
defence correspondent

After just over two weeks of fighting in inhospitable terrain, Operation Anaconda - the US effort to wipe out a major al-Qaeda and Taleban concentration in eastern Afghanistan - is drawing to a close.

General Tommy Franks
Franks has not given specific numbers of Taleban or al-Qaeda soldiers killed

The operation was billed by US commanders as a decisive battle.

It has been claimed that hundreds of al-Qaeda fighters have been killed after concerted ground and air operations.

But now a more complex picture is emerging, and even the Americans are accepting that further battles are still ahead.

Body count

Ever since the Vietnam War, where US success in combat was literally measured in the number of enemy troops killed, the Pentagon has been wary about issuing body counts.

Operation Anaconda
500 US and Canadian troops involved
30 caves searched around Gardez, eastern Afghanistan
US estimates about 500 Taleban/al-Qaeda militants killed
15 US and Afghan government troops killed
No casualties or contact with enemy soldiers in past 24 hours, US reports say
General Tommy Franks - the man in overall command of operations in Afghanistan - has refused to give any figure for the number of al-Qaeda and Taleban fighters killed.

Some US sources claim to have inflicted several hundred casualties in what was some of the most intensive ground combat that US troops have been engaged in for many years.

But it is impossible to verify what the Americans are saying.

Journalists have had only limited access to an area which is considered still highly dangerous.

And America's local Afghan allies seem sceptical about some of the more extravagant US claims.

Tough stakes

Even anecdotal reports from conversations with middle-ranking US officers suggest that many Taleban and al-Qaeda fighters may have simply melted away into the rugged terrain.

Already US sources are indicating that there will be other battles against further concentrations of fighters in the future.

So was this operation a success or a failure for the Pentagon?

The truth seems elusive at best.

For the Americans this was probably a mitigated victory. Lessons will have been learnt by both sides.

But paradoxically it was probably the American casualties that send the more significant signal.

A message that the stakes in this war are fundamentally different for the Americans and that American lives will be lost in prosecuting it.

See also:

18 Mar 02 | South Asia
Operation Anaconda 'almost over'
13 Mar 02 | South Asia
Eyewitness: Discontent in Gardez
12 Mar 02 | South Asia
Afghan battle lines shift
17 Mar 02 | Africa
US watches Somali al-Qaeda links
10 Nov 01 | Americas
Profile: General Tommy Franks
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