- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 28, 2001

The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan said yesterday the military is investigating more than three dozen Taliban and al Qaeda sites suspected of having materials used in the building of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.
"We've identified more than 40 places which represent potential for [weapons of mass destruction] research or things of that sort," said Army Gen. Tommy Franks, commander in chief of the U.S. Central Command.
The general spoke to reporters at his military headquarters in Tampa, Fla., as fighting continued in Afghanistan around Kandahar and at a fort near Mazar-e-Sharif, where hundreds of Taliban prisoners were killed during an uprising against their Northern Alliance captors.
In southern Afghanistan, additional Marine Corps troops arrived by helicopter at a secret base near Kandahar. The Marines began patrols with heavily armed Humvees equipped with anti-tank weapons and machine guns.
"We are here to rid the people of Afghanistan of the terrorists and to provide them with a peaceful way of life," said Capt. Stewart Upton, public-affairs officer for the Marine task force in Afghanistan.
Northern Alliance forces in northern Afghanistan said they ended the bloody prison uprising involving firefights between captured Taliban fighters and alliance troops. But U.S. military officials said the fight continued.
About 30 to 40 armed fighters were said to be holed up inside a fortress near Mazar-e-Sharif.
"It is not fully under control," Gen. Franks said.
The fortress had come under heavy U.S. aerial bombardment in support of the opposition forces. Air strikes against targets around the country continued yesterday, according to news agency reports from the region.
Among the targets attacked were a compound southeast of the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar that the Pentagon had learned was being used by senior leaders of both the Taliban and al Qaeda.
American F-16 fighters and B-1 bombers attacked the compound, U.S. officials said.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the compound was being used by "non-trivial" leadership and that "whoever was there is going to wish they weren't."
Gen. Franks said most of Afghanistan is under the control of anti-Taliban forces.
The last areas governed by the radical Islamic movement are Kandahar in the south and areas north of Jalalabad in northeastern Afghanistan.
Gen. Franks said most of the suspected weapons sites are under the control of Afghan opposition forces.
"We are very systematically going about our way of visiting each one of those and we'll continue to visit them until we've gone through all of them and performed the analyses that we need to perform to assure ourselves that we do not have evidence of" weapons of mass destruction.
Mr. Rumsfeld, who appeared with Gen. Franks during a visit to Central Command headquarters, said the war against terrorism is "far from over."
"Indeed, the toughest work may very well lie still ahead," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
The defense secretary said the military campaign will be shifting its focus from concentrating on taking Taliban-controlled cities to "hunting down and rooting out terrorists where they hide."
"This is difficult work. It's dangerous work. It will take careful planning by the people here at the U.S. Central Command. We'll not stop until the networks in Afghanistan and the terrorists elsewhere across the globe are stopped," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
Gen. Franks said the hunt for Saudi-born terrorist Osama bin Laden, the suspected mastermind in the September 11 attacks, and other terrorist leaders is focusing on two areas.
They include the Kandahar region and a section of northeast Afghanistan from Jalalabad and Tora Bora.
"These are the two areas that we're paying very, very careful attention to," Gen. Franks said, noting that the focus is due to intelligence reports.
Gen. Franks said those searching for weapons of mass destruction had recovered samples and documents.
Gen. Franks said so far there are no signs that sarin nerve gas had been found.
"If I thought I had my hands on a vial of sarin gas, then I'd be a bit more circuitous in my answer," he said. "No, we have not found something that we believe is a specific thing. That's why we're going to test them all."
The samples found in Afghanistan include laboratory equipment and "chemical compositions" that were sent to several laboratories in the United States for evaluation, Gen. Franks said.
No results were available from tests done so far, he said.
Two of the journalists killed along a road from the Pakistani border to Jalalabad last week had reported finding a container with vials labeled in Russian as being sarin gas.
Mr. Rumsfeld said U.S. forces would work hard to prevent any terrorists from getting chemical, biological or nuclear weapons that are located in Afghanistan.
"With respect to weapons of mass destruction, you can be certain that in the event weapons of mass destruction are located, that the United States would be very interested in getting their hands on them and would be very interested in seeing that they did not remain in the country with anybody," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
Gen. Franks praised the cooperation provided by Pakistan in the war against terrorism. He said Pakistan has been providing "very, very good" help with intelligence, in addition to supporting military operations.
Pakistani military forces also are monitoring borders in an effort to track down any terrorists fleeing Afghanistan through some of the 150 to 170 mountain passes and other passes, he said.
"The arrangement [with Pakistan] that we find has been very good and it continues to be very good," Gen. Franks said.
Some of the terrorists may escape Afghanistan, the general said, and will be pursued.
"If this leadership does come from Afghanistan, it's simply a matter of continuing wherever they go until we find them. We surely will," Gen. Franks said.
Mr. Rumsfeld also said Somalia is one of several places in the world that has "harbored al Qaeda" terrorists, "and to my knowledge, still is." Yemen also is known to have at least one al Qaeda cell operating, he said.
U.S. intelligence officials said there have been reports recently that al Qaeda terrorists have been moving arms and equipment into Somalia in preparation to set up a base.
Terrorist bases in Somalia are being spotted by defense planners in preparation for future attacks, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Gen. Franks said the Marine Corps base set up near Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan, eventually will have between 800 and 1,100 Marines who will be in charge of monitoring roads in the area in the search for terrorists.
The general said he did not know how long the Marines would stay there.
"It is not an invasion of Afghanistan," Gen. Franks said. "As soon as our work is finished, it certainly will be removed, and yes, we may well use it to bring humanitarian assistance in to the people in Afghanistan."


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