- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 17, 2002

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan U.S. investigators yesterday questioned a man who described himself as a financial supporter of the Taliban and showed up voluntarily to offer information at the biggest U.S. base in Afghanistan.

Pentagon officials said the man had given money to the Taliban but had not been a member of the Islamic regime that ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. It was not known what information he had about the complex web of support for Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network, which was sheltered by the Taliban.

Marine spokesman Lt. James Jarvis said the man showed up on Tuesday at the Kandahar airport, where thousands of U.S. troops were based and where a detention center held hundreds of al Qaeda and Taliban fighters.

The man remained at the site yesterday but was not detained, Lt. Jarvis said. A Pentagon official said on the condition of anonymity that the man was not on the U.S. list of wanted men, but Lt. Jarvis said investigators were "jumping with joy."

At the Pentagon, Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the volunteer was being questioned, but he would not give details on the man's identity or say how he came to the base.

U.S. officials initially indicated the man was an al Qaeda finance official, but Pentagon officials later said he was a Taliban backer.

The nature of the man's purported donations was not clear. However, during the years that the Taliban was in power, a major source of income for the Islamic militia reportedly came from kickbacks from big-time smugglers, including drug dealers, who were willing to pay in order to be allowed to continue their operations.

Also yesterday, a Marine color guard saluted as a flag-draped coffin holding the remains of the last of seven Marines killed in a crash a week ago was loaded onto a C-17 at Kandahar and flown to Germany en route to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. The crash of the refueling plane in Pakistan was the most deadly single incident for U.S. forces in the Afghanistan campaign.

The runway at Kandahar airport was darkened to prevent the C-17 from becoming a target for attackers.

The fourth planeload of prisoners in less than a week left Kandahar yesterday for a U.S. Navy detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the men were to be interrogated. Thirty prisoners were aboard the flight; bringing the total flown out to 110, with about 320 remaining in Kandahar.

Ahead of a planned visit to Afghanistan by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, a U.S. congressional delegation met interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai in the capital, Kabul, and pledged that American involvement in Afghanistan would not end with the winding down of the conflict.

"While our effort began as a war against terrorism, it continues now as an effort to rebuild this country," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat and the delegation's leader.

But another top U.S. congressman said the United States wouldn't take the lead in rebuilding Afghanistan and urged other countries to "step up to the plate" ahead of a Tokyo aid summit for the war-torn nation.

"We carried the bulk of the military load. We are not going to carry the bulk of the reconstruction load," Democratic Rep. Tom Lantos of California said in Tokyo.

The struggle to restore services in the capital took a step forward with the reopening of Kabul's international airport, which closed three months ago because of heavy bombing. The control tower was still a shattered hulk, and bomb craters dotted the taxiways, but a Boeing 727 belonging to the national carrier, Ariana Afghan Airlines, took off on a symbolic test flight, circling over the airport before landing again.

In another sign of Afghanistan's attempts to regain normality and good international relations, Mr. Karzai yesterday issued a decree prohibiting poppy production and the production of and trafficking in narcotics, including opium and heroin.

Narcotics have been a major source of illicit income for Afghanistan, which produces much of the opium and heroin used in Europe. Mr. Karzai's administration has been under pressure to start a full-scale crackdown against the trade.

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