Troops pull back to re-arm amid Afghan battle
BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan (CNN) -- U.S. and coalition forces regrouped Sunday in eastern Afghanistan to prepare for a final push against hundreds of hard-line al Qaeda and Taliban fighters holed up in the region's caves and mountains.
But Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, suggested Sunday that Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan's rugged, remote Paktia province could go on for some time.
"We are in their back yard, [and] we're fighting in tough conditions," Myers told CNN. "When the area is cleared of al Qaeda and Taliban, we'll be finished."
After more than a week of combined air and ground attacks, the front lines were quiet Sunday. About 400 soldiers in the 101st Airborne Division returned to Bagram Air Base, north of Kabul, from the front lines near Gardez to be "repositioned," said Maj. Bryan Hilferty.
"Some of the troops that are withdrawing are actually going to re-arm and refit themselves and then perhaps go back into the area to finish the job," Myers told CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."
Between 600 and 1,000 reinforcements from throughout Afghanistan have joined the hundreds of U.S., coalition and other Afghan troops in the area. Security sources in Kabul said the Taliban and al Qaeda fighters have been given two days to surrender before an offensive is launched.
"Negotiations are going on," said Gardez Security Chief Haji Is'haq. "If the negotiations don't give a good result, then war is a must."
In the meantime, Myers said U.S. forces and their Afghan allies were "working together" to develop a strategy to root out enemy fighters remaining in the region.
Pentagon officials said al Qaeda and Taliban fighters appeared to have been tipped off about the ground offensive earlier this week. An Afghan unit led by Gen. Zia Lodin did not perform as well as the officials hoped and U.S. forces had to scramble to fill holes left by the Afghan troops.
Residents of the region have criticized the latest U.S.-led campaign and have assisted al Qaeda and Taliban forces, according to local Afghan officials.
Myers said U.S. forces would continue to target pockets of Taliban and al Qaeda in Paktia province and elsewhere in Afghanistan. But the responsibility for uprooting the enemy ultimately rests with the Afghan army, he said.
"In the end, we've got to train Afghan forces to deal with these pockets themselves," he said. "That's another thing we're engaged in -- helping train and better equip an Afghan national army."
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