U.S. forces pinpoint more hidden complexes

Tuesday, January 15, 2002

Associated Press WriterWASHINGTON (AP) -- American troops captured seven new prisoners in the war in Afghanistan as they pressed ahead with the hunt for hiding al-Qaida terrorists and Taliban leaders, defense officials said Tuesday.

The prisoners were caught during one of several ongoing operations, one official said. He declined to give details, saying the efforts continue.

American-led forces have been searching caves and tunnels in various locations for scattered figures from the al-Qaida terrorist network and country's former Taliban leaders as well as for documents and other material that could provide information about their whereabouts or future plans.

It was not immediately clear if the seven captured since Monday were al-Qaida or Taliban.

Meanwhile, troops were planning to soon search several other Afghan locations where intelligence sources say al-Qaida terrorists have hidden complexes, defense sources said on condition of anonymity.

And Marines found one new hiding place Tuesday right outside the airport used by Marines for more than a month.

Warplanes for a week and a half have been hitting an extensive collection of buildings and caves in the eastern part of the country near the village of Zawar. And Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem said Monday they'll "probably look for another complex."

The military already is aware of several specific areas it wants to begin with, a defense official said Tuesday on condition of anonymity. The Pentagon has intelligence indicating there may be Taliban or al-Qaida -- or their weapons -- hidden at what he called a handful of places.

He declined to name the places.

Airstrikes have flattened 60 buildings and sealed about 50 caves in the Zawar Kili area near the Pakistan border, Stufflebeem said Monday. U.S. warplanes have struck the former al-Qaida base almost daily since last Wednesday.

"We're coming to a conclusion in this particular complex, and we'll probably look for another complex," Stufflebeem, deputy director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Pentagon news conference.

As he spoke, Marines near the southern Afghan city of Kandahar were working on new discovery -- only 500 yards from their airport base.

Marine Capt. Dan Greenwood said that patrols spotted seven men who appeared to be armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers heading toward an abandoned mud-walled house outside the base perimeter Monday evening, Afghan time.

They sent out a patrol Tuesday morning. The men were not found, but a cache of ammunition was. U.S. demolitions experts blew up a nearby bunker made of rock.

Officials said that although the find was extremely small, particularly compared to the Zawar complex, it illustrates the continuing danger of U.S. work in Afghanistan.

The same area was used by gunmen Thursday to launch an attack while a C-17 transport plane took off with the first batch of 20 prisoners from bin Laden's al-Qaida network and the ousted Taliban regime, heading from a detention center to a high-security jail at the U.S. Navy Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Stufflebeem said that by the time Marines responded Thursday, the gunman were gone. An official said Tuesday that it's now believed them slipped into the tunnels after firing.

The base at the Kandahar airport is the site of the main detention center for al-Qaida and Taliban prisoners from the war. Officials said 483 were in U.S. custody -- 433 in Afghanistan, the 50 in Cuba and American John Walker Lindh on the amphibious attack ship USS Bataan in the Arabian Sea.

Also, Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke Tuesday clarified the circumstances last week in which a prisoner was sedated for the transfer, saying he was in pain because of an injury.

Responding to suggestions that chaining and sedating prisoners might be a violation of their civil rights, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said only one of the 20 had been sedated, leaving the impression it was to prevent him from doing anything dangerous, and in light of two deadly uprising prisoners had staged last month while in Pakistani and Afghan custody.

Thirty more al-Qaida prisoners arrived Monday afternoon at the jail at Guantanamo.

Meanwhile, a U.S. intelligence official said Monday that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is believed still in Afghanistan or in Pakistan. Bin Laden is thought to have fled the Tora Bora region in early December, and coalition forces have not known his whereabouts since.

------On the Net:

Central Command on war status: http://www.centcom.mil/operations/Enduring--Freedom/ef.asp

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