Tora Bora sweep nets information

Hunt nearly done

Posted: Wednesday, January 09, 2002

WASHINGTON -- U.S. troops captured two senior al-Qaida fighters and confiscated their computers and cell phones near a huge underground cave complex used by Osama bin Laden's terrorist network, the nation's top general said Tuesday.

The discoveries in eastern Afghanistan came as U.S. forces were wrapping up operations in Tora Bora and focusing on Zawar Kili, the complex used as a training camp and assembly point for possible movement from Afghanistan into Pakistan.

The two men, found late Monday in a group of 14 suspected members of al-Qaida, were deemed sufficiently important to be removed immediately to the U.S.-run detention center in Kandahar, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Richard Myers said at a Pentagon briefing.

Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the war's commander, said clues to the pair's importance included ''the way that they carried themselves, their language skill and that sort of thing.'' Franks, head of U.S. Central Command, spoke on PBS' ''NewsHour.''

Besides the computers and phones, ''some small arms and training documents were also found,'' Myers said. ''We're exploiting those as we speak.''

American warplanes have struck repeatedly at the cave complex and at other areas around Khost in eastern Afghanistan's Paktia province. U.S. special forces teams are on the ground in that area, where a Green Beret soldier was killed in an ambush Friday.

As U.S. forces sweep through the area, they have found a large network of buildings, bunkers and a warren of underground caves, Myers said.

''We have found this complex to be very, very extensive. It covers a large area. When we ask people how large, they often describe it as huge,'' the four-star Air Force general said.

U.S. bombers struck a cache of tanks and weaponry in the area on Sunday. They launched two new strikes on additional buildings and bunkers found nearby late Monday, Myers said.

An F-14 fighter jet dropped two precision-guided bombs on one building, and an F-18 jet dropped two more guided bombs on a bunker, he said.

The two al-Qaida, captured near the cave complex, were among a group of 14 fighters apprehended without resistance by U.S. forces on the ground, Myers said. They were transferred to a detention center where U.S. officials have been interrogating suspected al-Qaida and Taliban. The other 12 remain in the custody of Afghan officials, the general said.

''They were the ones of interest that we thought were senior enough where they might have the kind of information that we're looking for in terms of ... future operations and so forth,'' Myers added.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Monday, Franks predicted that the U.S. military in the next day or two would gain custody of one or two Taliban or al-Qaida figures of great interest to the United States, but he would not elaborate.

Myers said he did not know whether the two al-Qaida taken to Kandahar were the ones mentioned by Franks.

The general noted that ''other types of surveillance or reconnaissance'' had not in the past indicated the huge extent of the complexes located in the Zawar Kili area.

But Myers said that once U.S. forces were able to explore on the ground there, they found the complex much bigger than previous intelligence had indicated.

Paktia province has long been known as an area where al-Qaida terrorists had a large training and supply complex. A camp hit this week was struck by U.S. missiles in 1998 in retaliation for bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa blamed on al-Qaida guerrillas.

Earlier, officials said that three more people identified as top al-Qaida leaders are believed dead in the fighting across Afghanistan.

Abu Hafs the Mauritanian, also known as Mahfouz Ould al-Walid, Abu Jafar al-Jaziri, also known as Omar Chaabani, and Abu Salah al-Yemeni are believed to have been killed, said a U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Abu Hafs was believed to be about age 26 and had ties to al-Qaida terrorist operations. Al-Jaziri and al-Yemeni were logistics coordinators for the terrorist group.

Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, who ran some of bin Laden's training camps, has been captured, the official said. Other details were unclear.

Myers said officials expected to make the first transfer soon of detained suspected Taliban or al-Qaida members to a new site being built at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Until then, U.S. forces guarding the fighters inside Afghanistan are being extremely careful, aware that the fighters would be willing to die to attack Americans, Myers said.

''Obviously, any time you have detainees who will sacrifice their life to kill you or what you stand for ... that's the most dangerous type of individual you can have in your control,'' Myers said.

In all, U.S. forces were holding 346 suspected Taliban or al-Qaida members, he said. One detainee previously held aboard a U.S. ship had been moved to the airfield at Bagram, near Kabul, because the United States had specially trained interrogators there, Myers said.

The general declined to identify the detainee.

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