- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 15, 2002

The Pentagon declared victory yesterday in the battle of Zawar Kili, saying its forces had cleansed the huge terror complex of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda fighters, destroyed 60 buildings and closed 50 cave hide-outs.
"We have leveled the remaining structures that were found on the surface, and we have closed all the caves that we would intend not be reoccupied," Navy Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem told reporters at the Pentagon. "So I guess the best way to term it is: It's now time to go look elsewhere."
Adm. Stufflebeem spoke on the 100th day of the war in Afghanistan as bombers completed what could be the last major strike on Zawar Kili. U.S. Central Command, which is running the war, began intensive airstrikes on Zawar Kili two weeks ago, after surveillance detected al Qaeda terrorists trying to regroup at what apparently was bin Laden's largest base.
As the bombing intensified, and Army Special Forces soldiers got a ground-level view, the United States discovered that what seemed like a terror camp near Khost on the Pakistani border was more like a major military facility. The target list expanded, and heavy Air Force bombers and Navy jet fighters launched more than a half-dozen attacks, dropping scores of 2,000-pound bombs.
The destruction of Zawar Kili eliminates the last major al Qaeda training base in Afghanistan and denies bin Laden's terrorists one more hiding place. In mid-December, U.S. air raids, and anti-Taliban warriors, cleared out Tora Bora, north of Khowst, a complex of caves and bunkers then believed to hold the last major al Qaeda concentration.
The Pentagon last week harbored a faint hope that it may have killed bin Laden himself at Zawar Kili. Intelligence indicated elements of his security detail regrouped there. But officials later said they do not believe the man held responsible for the September 11 attacks on America was there.
Officials say they believe he continues to hide out along Afghanistan's eastern border with Pakistan, a generally lawless region that is home to tribes friendly to the Taliban.
In shutting down Zawar Kili's 3-mile long, 3-mile wide swath of caves and buildings, the United States has destroyed a multipurpose operations center.
It served as a garrison for some of bin Laden's 4,000-man Arab army, a recruit training station for would-be terrorists and a communication hub to stay in contact with his worldwide empire.
"We have evidence that he actually housed people there for a period of time, kind of like a base camp," said Marine Corps Maj. Brad Lowell, a Central Command spokesman.
Adm. Stufflebeem, deputy director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Pentagon learned more about Zawar Kili once Green Berets observed it from close range.
Soldiers found equipment as large as tanks and artillery pieces, along with the basics: ammunition, rifles and grenades. The cache was destroyed by detonation and airstrikes.
"It previously had been struck," the spokesman said, referring to raids conducted closer to the war's Oct. 7 start date. "What was not known was how extensive a complex it was, until we actually were on the ground and physically looking inside these caves."
Hundreds of al Qaeda fled Tora Bora in mid-December and made their way south into Pakistan, where government troops detained them. Adm. Stufflebeem said he believes those al Qaeda who remain on the loose in Afghanistan probably intend to stay there. This means U.S. special-operations forces and surveillance systems must continue to track them down to meet President Bush's stated goal of destroying al Qaeda.
"We're actively looking for and being very attentive to any collection of al Qaeda fighters or pro-Taliban people, whether singly or together," he said. "We'll go wherever they are to find them and to root them out."
For the second consecutive briefing, reporters peppered the Pentagon with questions about the well-being of the first 20 al Qaeda fighters shipped Friday from Afghanistan to a makeshift prison at the U.S. Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Some of these fighters were among those who staged a bloody prison uprising last November in Mazar-e-Sharif that claimed the life of CIA officer Johnny "Mike" Spann.
"You're talking about people who are incredibly dangerous, incredibly dangerous, who are willing to blow themselves up or do anything possible to hurt and kill others." said Victoria Clarke, spokeswoman for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. "They are receiving culturally appropriate meals every day. They are getting showers every day. They are getting medical treatment if they need medical treatment. They are given an opportunity to exercise."
An additional 30 al Qaeda and Taliban fighters arrived in Cuba yesterday.
The United States, which gained reams of intelligence in searches of al Qaeda compounds in Afghanistan, plans to interrogate prisoners at the U.S. naval base.


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