BAGRAM, Afghanistan – Even though the biggest U.S.-led ground offensive of the Afghan war has ended, Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters still will be actively pursued throughout Afghanistan, a U.S. general said Tuesday.
All U.S. and Canadian forces have withdrawn from the eastern Shah-e-Kot Valley targeted by Operation Anaconda, said Maj. Gen. Frank L. Hagenbeck, the commander of all coalition troops in Afghanistan.
"When we find pockets of resistance, we'll go after them," Hagenbeck said at Bagram air base north of Kabul.
American forces killed 16 fighters in a gun battle and captured 31 others at a military compound, officials in Washington said Monday. There was no indication that any of those killed or captured were senior leaders of Al Qaeda or the Taliban.
A team of U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers attacked a convoy of three vehicles on Sunday about 45 miles southwest of Gardez, killing 16 people believed to be Al Qaeda fighters and wounding one. One other was detained.
In a separate incident shortly after that firefight, U.S. forces captured 31 suspected Al Qaeda or Taliban fighters in a compound west of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan, officials in Washington said.
Also Monday, Britain announced that it will send up to 1,700 troops to Afghanistan to help U.S. forces in future operations against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said Britain will deploy a full infantry battle group, including Royal Marines commandos, in Afghanistan in its largest military deployment for combat operations since the Persian Gulf war.
Hoon said the United States requested that Britain join future operations against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. The British troops will go to Bagram first and be ready to begin offensive operations by mid-April.
The British already have about 1,600 troops assigned to the International Security Assistance Force in the Afghan capital, Kabul. The force was deployed last year under the auspices of the U.N. Security Council to assist Afghanistan's new interim government in keeping the peace in Kabul.
The total ISAF force numbers about 4,500 troops.
Meanwhile, in the eastern Afghan town of Khost, gunmen challenging the authority of the newly appointed police chief exchanged fire with security forces, killing one person and injuring three others, witnesses said.
The gun battle occurred in the town's main market and forced people to shutter their shops, the Afghan Islamic Press reported.
Khost is on the southeastern end of the valley where Operation Anaconda was staged. Close to the Pakistani border, the area was a hotbed of support for the Taliban and Al Qaeda and has been the scene of several sporadic bombings and shootings in recent weeks.