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Allies searching Afghan caves

Afghan fighters with the U.S.-allied forces leave the Paktia province village of Shah-e-kot, Afghanistan, on Wednesday.
Afghan fighters with the U.S.-allied forces leave the Paktia province village of Shah-e-kot, Afghanistan, on Wednesday.  

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan (CNN) -- With the conventional battle over in the Afghan mountains -- at least for now -- U.S. soldiers and their allies plied the heights around the Shah-e-kot Valley on Friday looking to take down whatever remains of Taliban and al Qaeda fighters and their strongholds.

"We're going to continue to look for any al Qaeda, Taliban members ... in Afghanistan," said U.S. land forces commander Lt. Gen. Paul T. Mikolashek. "There are certainly those that exist elsewhere in the country, particularly in the area we've been working on, and we're going to continue to seek them out, rout them out, take them out."

Animation: Caves of Afghaniston 

U.S. Army spokesman Maj. Brian Hilferty said forces in the mountains conducted meticulous cave-to-cave searches, destroying what weapons the Afghan forces didn't want and collecting whatever information the al Qaeda fighters had left behind.

"We have seen little enemy movement, but we did engage some enemy forces in the Shah-e-kot Valley area," Hilferty said.

Hilferty said that Afghan fighters were the primary force behind securing the valley, while U.S. and Canadian soldiers conducted the mountainous pursuit.

U.S. commanders kept up the tough talk, warning that coalition forces would be relentless in their tasks.

The operation in eastern Afghanistan, dubbed "Anaconda," launched two weeks ago with overnight airstrikes on al Qaeda and Taliban positions in the mountains of Paktia province south of Kabul.

On Thursday, Operation Anaconda's top commander in Afghanistan warned al Qaeda leaders to "sleep with one eye open" because U.S., coalition and Afghan forces are "not going to let loose of these guys."

"Our enemy ... are certainly dead-enders -- the most committed, the most dangerous trained killers, and as we've seen, the least likely to surrender," Maj. Gen. Frank L. Hagenbeck said. "Nevertheless, we've killed hundreds of them and will continue combat operations in the Shah-e-kot mountains until we remove the terrorist parasites that threaten Afghanistan and the peace of the world."

Hagenbeck said that intelligence and some 20 detainees had provided good information on the locations of al Qaeda pockets both in the current area of operation and elsewhere.

"We have eyes on them," he said. "We know where they're going. If I was an al Qaeda leader, I'd sleep with one eye open."

As for the nearly two-week old Operation Anaconda, it "will be over when our bosses tell us to go home," Hagenbeck said.




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