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'Adaptable' al-Qaida rebuilding

©Associated Press
March 21, 2002

BAGRAM, Afghanistan -- The Operation Anaconda commander warned on Wednesday that al-Qaida fighters are an "adaptable enemy" already drawing on a fresh flow of cash to rebuild forces in eastern Paktia province. Just 40 miles to the east, U.S. and Afghan troops came under fire, and one American was wounded.

Intelligence data showed that well-outfitted fighters already were moving to regroup, Maj. Gen. Frank Hagenbeck said just two days after completion of the largest U.S. offensive in the Afghan war. He predicted increased activity as the weather improves.

"I can tell you there are al-Qaida operatives in Paktia right now who are going to great lengths to try to regroup or regenerate," Hagenbeck said. "They are also spending a lot of money to regroup.

"They are a very adaptable enemy," he said.

Just 40 miles east of the main battlefield in Operation Anaconda, gunmen launched an attack on U.S. and Afghan troops with machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars, touching off a firefight Tuesday night near the town of Khost. One American soldier was wounded.

The soldier, with the 101st Airborne Division, was shot in the arm, but the injury was not considered life-threatening.

At the same time, three U.S.-allied Afghan fighters were killed in a raid on a checkpoint near the Khost airport, Afghan officials said.

U.S. troops and their Afghan allies called in support from an AC-130 gunship and a B-1 bomber, which illuminated the area with flares, Central Command said.

At the Pentagon, Brig. Gen. John Rosa said the AC-130 targeted a former prison that was the source of some of the fire. Ground forces who searched the area later found bullet casings and blood but no bodies, he said.

For several hours Wednesday, the Pentagon thought it had found a clear link between Somalia and al-Qaida -- a hand-held navigation device with the name "G. Gordon" on it. Rosa said officials believed it once belonged to Master Sgt. Gary I. Gordon, an Army Ranger killed in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, in October 1993. Rosa said the find "could obviously tie al-Qaida to Somalia."

Gordon received the Medal of Honor for his actions in Mogadishu.

Hours later, officials announced a different conclusion; the device belonged to a U.S. soldier who fought against the al-Qaida at the outset of Operation Anaconda. The name "G. Gordon" was written on it because the soldier uses that as his nickname because people say he resembles G. Gordon Liddy, the Watergate figure.

The soldier who lost the "G. Gordon" GSP device survived the battle.

Tensions have been running high for months in Khost, near the Pakistani border and along one potential route into Pakistan for fleeing fighters. U.S. Special Forces, who have been operating in the town for some time, came under fire at the Khost airport at the beginning of Operation Anaconda, but there were no injuries.

A contingent of up to 1,700 British soldiers is on its way to Afghanistan to join the fight against al-Qaida and will begin arriving at Bagram in coming days. Hagenbeck said the force will give the coalition more options.

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