WASHINGTON – U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers attacked a convoy of three vehicles believed to be trying to ferry Al Qaeda fighters out of the Shah-e-Kot Valley in eastern Afghanistana, the Pentagon said Monday.
The attack on Sunday killed 16 enemy fighters and wounded one, officials said. One person was detained, and there were no American casualties.
Later, a separate U.S.-led operation in that area resulted in the capturing of an unknown number of suspected Al Qaeda fighters, one officer said. No Americans were wounded in that engagement, either, but the officer said he did not immediately have other details.
In the first incident, the three-vehicle convoy was attacked by Army Special Forces and did not return fire, one officer said. He said all 16 were believed to be Al Qaeda fighters and were armed with grenades and other weapons.
It was not clear whether any senior-level Al Qaeda were among the casualties.
The vehicles were attacked about 70 miles south of Gardez in Paktia province. They apparently were trying to escape the area where more than 2,000 U.S., Afghan and allied troops assaulted hundreds of Al Qaeda fighters over a two-week period. That assault, called Operation Anaconda, was declared a major success Monday by Gen. Tommy Franks, the U.S. commander of forces in Afghanistan.
In Sunday's attack, the U.S. Special Forces soldiers attacked the three-vehicle convoy and then approached a fourth vehicle that was traveling some distance away. The fourth vehicle was not attacked because it apparently carried noncombatants, the officials said.
In a news conference at Bagram air base, Franks told reporters he could not discuss the next stage in the fight against Al Qaeda and Taliban holdouts but said, "I believe that future operations may well be the size of Anaconda."
In recent days, coalition forces have examined 30 caves, finding ammunition, clothing, supplies and sensitive documents, said Capt. Steven O'Connor, spokesman for the 10th Mountain Division.
At the Pentagon, spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said Anaconda was very successful and was winding down. She said there was no evidence that large numbers of Al Qaeda had managed to escape that area, although she acknowledged it was likely that some did.