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Operation Anaconda winds down

An American soldier looks through a notebook found at an al Qaeda position in eastern Afghanistan.  

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Hundreds of U.S.-led coalition forces scoured mountains in eastern Afghanistan's Shah-e-kot Valley on Sunday in search of remaining Taliban and al Qaeda fighters, but Pentagon officials said their offensive was winding down.

Coalition forces have "accomplished what they needed to accomplish, and now they're moving on," said Lt. Col Martin Compton, a Central Command spokesman. Nevertheless, he added, there will be "ongoing activities" in the area.

Compton said 41 missions were flown and 43 bombs were dropped late Friday and Saturday as part of Operation Anaconda, the name given to the offensive in eastern Afghanistan. Support for al Qaeda and Taliban forces in the region is high, officials said.

There have also been sporadic clashes with opposition fighters, and coalition forces have been calling in close air support, according to U.S. officials. Most of the enemy fighters in the valley are believed to be non-Afghan Taliban.

The Pentagon has said the mission won't end until terrorists and their supporters are eliminated -- a task Russia's defense minister warned Sunday should not be underestimated.

CNN's Martin Savidge has more on the troops behind Operation Anaconda and what they are doing in Afghanistan (March 16)

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In an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press," Sergei Ivanov said the American people should expect "it will take years" to dismantle the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Ivanov said the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan has been a success in dispersing "bandit groups" in the first six months. But he said that should not make the American public "over-optimistic," adding that dismantling "the roots of al Qaeda and Taliban" will take much longer.

"We have a history of knowing what Afghanistan is," Ivanov said, referring to the Soviet Union's decade-long military campaign there after its 1979 invasion.

Over the weekend in Afghanistan, coalition forces found bodies of opposition fighters and items they left behind.

About 750 troops -- Americans from the 10th Mountain Division joined by Canadians -- have discovered weapons, ammunition, diaries, journals and notebooks that will be analyzed for possible intelligence value.

In Washington, Sen. Bob Graham, D-Florida, said the U.S. Army has confirmed 500 enemy deaths from Operation Anaconda, which began at the start of the month. Reports of another 200 deaths are unconfirmed, Graham said on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."

Other lawmakers warned the battle in Afghanistan could shift from the mountain slopes to Afghan city streets. Top lawmakers on the Senate Intelligence Committee warned that U.S. forces could be attacked by al Qaeda fighters hiding among civilians.

Graham, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said such an attack may occur " small settings, where there might be 50 people in a marketplace, and in that 50 are three or four Taliban, al Qaeda people who are looking for Americans, in that kind of hustle and bustle of a marketplace."

Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the committee's ranking Republican, raised the same concern, but expressed optimism that U.S. forces are ready.

"They're very much aware of this," he said. "They know this war is not over with over there, although we're doing very well."




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