BAGRAM, Afghanistan -- The U.S.-led Operation Anaconda has failed to yield any top al-Qaida leaders, and an American commander said Thursday that the terror network's upper echelon may not have been in the Shahi Kot valley when the battle began.
But even without apparently achieving its ultimate quarry -- terror chief Osama bin Laden -- the biggest U.S.-led ground assault since the 1991 Persian Gulf War has removed "hundreds" from the rolls of international terror, most of them from the Russian republic of Chechnya, Uzbekistan and even China, said Maj. General Frank L. Hagenbeck, commander of the coalition waging the battle in eastern Afghanistan.
Hagenbeck's statements came amid reports from Afghan forces that al-Qaida fighters fled en masse through U.S. positions and that few bodies of enemy forces are evident on the battlefield.
Even the holdouts' commander, Saifur Rahman Mansour, and his three brothers apparently remain at large.
In the end, the campaign appeared as frustrating as the fight for the Tora Bora caves in December. In both cases, intensive bombing left coalition forces in possession of an empty landscape, sifting for clues in the rubble and caves -- and wondering how many enemy fighters had actually been there, and how many had slipped away.
At Shahi Kot, at least, U.S. military leaders are convinced that hardly any enemies escaped.
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