BAGRAM, Afghanistan – A week after U.S. forces battled a group of armed men on a mountainside in southern Afghanistan, enemy fighters are still firing at U.S. troops searching the steep terrain, a U.S. military spokesman said Tuesday.
Troops with the 82nd Airborne Division saw a man duck into a cave Monday as they were clearing more than 75 caves in the Adi Ghar mountain. They destroyed the cave with anti-tank rockets, but the man had vanished.
The report of the gunman came a day after the U.S. military said its troops on the mountain saw smoke rising from one of the caves. On Friday, U.S. troops were fired upon by an assailant who also disappeared. There were no injuries.
"There are still people up there in the area," said Col. Roger King. He speculated that whatever enemy forces remain on the mountain might have had their escape routes cut off or may just be dedicated to their cause.
The mountain, some 15 miles northeast of Spinboldak, was the site of a firefight Jan. 27 that killed at least 18 militants. The mountain was pummeled by mortars, helicopter fire and bombs. Two men were captured.
Forty-nine caves have been cleared and 12 have been destroyed since then. King said evidence that hostile forces remain on the mountain indicates that U.S. troops going cave-to-cave may face a final shoot-out with any stragglers.
"That's the crux of their profession. Our soldiers train to fight. Their goal in life as an infantry soldier is to close with and destroy the enemy," King said. "Close combat is the final thing they prepare for. So in some instances they expect it to come down to that."
King said the firefight and cave-clearing process, dubbed Operation Mongoose, has shown that whoever is on the mountain hasn't employed the usual tactics of hit-and-run assaults with small arms or the use of remote controlled rockets.
"It's been a little strange in this campaign in that we haven't found very many of the enemy who were willing to go into that final 20 meters of the battlefield," King said. "We haven't had a lot of displays of that type of commitment."
King also said the U.S. military was aware that leaflets were appearing along the Pakistan and Afghanistan border calling for a holy war against the coalition. The leaflets claimed two Islamic groups had killed numerous U.S. soldiers and that the American military had committed atrocities. King dismissed the claims as "patently false."
"I have heard that there are leaflets being passed out in bazaars in the vicinity of the border. I had heard that they were calling for a new jihad, but this happens about once every two months. There hasn't been a lot of results from it," he said.