SHAH-E-KOT, Afghanistan (AP) -- U.S. and Afghan troops searched for the remnants of al-Qaida forces Wednesday after seizing control of the Shah-e-Kot valley after a 12-day battle in which coalition troops claimed that hundreds of enemy fighters died.
Afghan forces led by Gul Haider and Zia Lodin overran three villages and a strategic ridge dubbed "the whale" after intense bombing by U.S. jets, coalition officers said Wednesday.
U.S. special forces troops and bearded Afghan fighters, riding Wednesday through the area in green jeeps mounted with 30-caliber machine guns, combed the missile-shattered mud villages and rock caves.
Canadian commandos were deployed in the high mountains which overlook the valley.
Overhead, Apache and other U.S. attack helicopters prowled the skies, searching for al-Qaida and Taliban fighters believed fleeing toward Pakistan.
Their top commander, Saif Rahman Mansour, apparently escaped, Afghan commanders said. One special forces soldier, who refused to give his name, said operations would continue in the area for another 30-35 days on a smaller scale.
U.S. officers said Operation Anaconda had yielded valuable information about al-Qaida, including training manuals, bomb-making equipment and other intelligence.
It was the largest U.S.-led offensive of the five-month war on terrorism and marked the first time that American conventional forces -- the 101st Airborne Division and the 10th Mountain Division -- were engaged in ground combat in Afghanistan.
"They had been building this place and this defense for years," Col. Frank Wiercinski, brigade commander of the 101st Airborne Division, said at Bagram air base north of Kabul. "We definitely put a spike through their heart."
The coalition casualty toll since the battle began on March 2 stood at eight U.S. special forces troops and three Afghan allied fighters.
Wiercinski insisted the majority of those killed in the battle were non-Afghans from al-Qaida.
Estimates of the number of al-Qaida and Taliban fighters in the area had varied widely during the offensive and it was unclear how many of the enemy died or may have escaped.
At Bagram, Maj. Bryan Hilferty, spokesman for the 10th Mountain Division, estimated there were no more than 100 enemy fighters left in the area. U.S. officials in Washington had estimated the enemy force at 600 to 700 in the early days of the offensive.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.