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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


U.S. pulls troops from battle; Afghan force divided

GARDEZ/BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan (REUTERS) — The United States pulled 400 frontline troops out of the mountain assault on al Qaeda fighters Sunday, turning the battle over mainly to B-52 bombers and a divided Afghan force.

Weary U.S. soldiers returning from the front said they left behind a panicked and beaten foe hiding in caves.

“We are repositioning,” said Maj. Brian Hilferty at Bagram air base on the outskirts of Kabul, where the 400 withdrawn troops were taken by helicopter. “The major fighting of the battle is over.”

But he added, “If I were an al Qaeda guy, I would not go out for a pizza. Operation Anaconda is not over.”

Sgt. Corey Daniel, a 23-year-old who commanded an eight-man forward observation unit, said resistance from al Qaeda waned over the last few days as they ran out of ammunition and wilted under non-stop bombing.

“They were in a panic at the end,” said Daniel.

Within hours of the pullout of one-third of the 1,200 U.S. troops involved in the eight-day-old Operation Anaconda, B-52 bombers returned to the area.

As night closed in, Reuters correspondents in Gardez saw huge flashes of light from the bombing over the mountain battlefield 20 miles away.

In Gardez, a split opened up among Afghan troops involved in the fighting.

A top local commander demanded that hundreds of mainly ethnic Tajik reinforcements from the north be withdrawn from the mainly Pashtun area of the battle.

“We propose to [Afghan interim leader] Mr. Hamid Karzai to instruct the new-coming troops to go back to their places of origin,” Commander Mohammad Ismail told a news conference.

Ismail is in charge of operations under Afghan Gen. Atiq Allahuddin, who he said commanded Afghan forces in the U.S.-led campaign.

“We obey Kabul”

“The point is if the issue of Shahi Kot [site of the battle] is resolved, [Northern Commander] Gul Haider’s troops might claim it, which is what we oppose.

“We take this opportunity to state that the issue of Paktia be purely left to the people of Paktia,” he said, referring to the province in which the fighting is taking place.

The new Afghan Ministry of Defense is dominated by Tajiks and Friday sent nearly 1,000 mainly ethnic Tajik troops — including a number commanded by Haider — from Kabul to join the mainly local ethnic Pashtun forces.

Their arrival, with at least 10 tanks, nearly doubled the size of Afghan forces.

The Pashtun forces have been fighting the several hundred al Qaeda rebels besieged in mountain caves throughout the U.S.-led attack around Shahi Kot.

Asked if the Americans agreed that Haider’s reinforcements should go home, Ismail said through a translator:

“The Americans are not involved in the internal affairs of our country. They are promoting a policy of anti-al Qaeda activity. They have not occupied us and are not our bosses.”

Not all from the region shared Ismail’s views.

At another news conference, Hajji Mohammad Ibrahim Omari, an adviser to Paktia Governor Taj Mohammad Wardak, said local leaders and Haider were “coordinating a formula to achieve national goals.”

“Afghanistan has a unified government and a unified army. The troops should be able to undertake any military assignment in any area where they are needed,” he said. “Afghanistan requires the services of a unified force, not of irresponsible individuals.”

Earlier it had appeared that after bad weather, U.S.-led forces were poised for a final assault on what Afghan leader Karzai has described as the last major al Qaeda base in Afghanistan.

Good to be back

However, there have been rumblings among some Afghan commanders that they preferred to give the several hundred al Qaeda fighters a last chance to negotiate a surrender before a dangerous advance across a land mine-littered landscape leading up to bunkers and cave entrances.

“I never favored military means, and I still don’t,” said Cmdr. Ziauddin, who controls about 100 fighters.

In the past, Afghan commanders have preferred to negotiate surrenders rather than engage in costly battles. However, treaties frequently collapse within weeks and fighting resumes when either side has regrouped or gained strength.

In a sign that maybe deals were already being done, a senior Taliban commander fighting against U.S.-led forces surrendered to government forces Sunday, a top defense official said.

Mullah Haji Abdul Rahim turned himself over this morning to the forces of General Haidar, Gulbuddin, a top aide to Defense Minister General Mohammad Fahim, told Reuters.

Gulbuddin said Rahim was a brother of Mowlavi Haqani, former chief commander of Paktia province when the Taliban ruled.

“Rahim is an influential figure. He had up to 1,000 troops under his command. I do not know how many of his troops surrendered themselves,” Gulbuddin said.

At Bagram air base, there was elation among the returning troops.

“It’s great to be breathing normal air again,” said Sgt. David Wilcox, after stepping off his helicopter and dumping his heavy battle gear on the ground.

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