- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 22, 2002

U.S. Marines are searching out pockets of resistance in Afghanistan as American Taliban John Walker is set to be returned to the United States as early as today, military officials said yesterday.

U.S. strike aircraft, meanwhile, have not carried out any bombing raids in Afghanistan since Jan. 14, a sign that the air war is winding down.

"Right now the Marines are patrolling, looking for and investigating pockets of al Qaeda-Taliban resistance," Cmdr. Dan Keesee, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla., said in an interview.

Currently, Marine combat forces in Afghanistan are working on about 10 areas where al Qaeda and Taliban fighters are refusing to give up, he said.

Cmdr. Keesee had no information on whether the Marines were involved in any combat engagements yesterday.

In Kandahar, U.S. military officials said Walker will be taken by aircraft today from a Navy ship to an undisclosed location, the Associated Press reported.

Officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity said Walker, who was captured during fighting last year near Mazar-e-Sharif, will be moved from the USS Bataan to the Marine base near Kandahar's airport and then given to Justice Department officials.

Officials did not disclose Walker's ultimate destination.

However, he likely will be moved to Northern Virginia for an appearance in Eastern District Court in Alexandria, where he is expected to be tried.

Walker has been charged in a federal criminal complaint with conspiring to kill U.S. citizens, providing material support and resources to terrorists, and engaging in prohibited transactions with the Taliban regime.

If convicted, he could received a maximum life prison sentence.

Cmdr. Keesee declined to comment on plans to transport Walker. "His status remains unchanged aboard the USS Bataan," he said. "I can't talk about any details regarding his transfer. Those will be revealed once that has taken place."

Cmdr. Keesee said the Marine patrols are taking place in several areas throughout Afghanistan, which he declined to detail.

The Central Command spokesman also said there have been no aerial bombing raids since Jan. 14.

"And there have been no attacks over the last 24 hours," he said.

Currently, the number of al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners in U.S. custody in Afghanistan is 274, Cmdr. Keesee said.

A group of 34 more detainees including six Algerians captured in Bosnia arrived at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Sunday.

Yesterday, a group of 14 new prisoners from Afghanistan arrived in Cuba on stretchers. A military spokesman said the prisoners had wounds from battles in Afghanistan, and the Marines carrying them wore yellow latex gloves and surgical masks.

The new arrivals yesterday bring the total number of prisoners at the base in Cuba to 158.

Cmdr. Keesee would not disclose whether any senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders have been captured recently by U.S. forces. "We can't comment on that; we're only talking about total numbers [of detainees]."

Cmdr. Keesee also said the military is continuing to investigate the crash of a Marine CH-53E helicopter. Officials have said preliminary indications show the helicopter crashed north of Kabul on Saturday as a result of mechanical problems.

The two Marines killed in the crash were identified by the Pentagon as Staff Sgt. Walter F. Cohee III, 26, from Wicomico, Md., and Staff Sgt. Dwight J. Morgan, 24, from Mendocino, Calif.

Five other Marines were injured in the crash including the pilots, Capt. William J. Cody, 30, of Old Bridge, N.J., and Capt. Douglas V. Glasgow, 33, of Wooster, Ohio; also crew chief Cpl. David J. Lynne, 23, of Mecklenburg, N.C.; helicopter mechanic Cpl. Ivan A. Montanez, 22, of Hayes, Texas; and crew chief Cpl. Stephen A. Sullivan, 24, of Pickens, S.C.

The Pentagon said there was no immediate sign the helicopter was brought down by enemy fire.

Cmdr. Keesee said troops of the 101st Airborne are continuing to deploy to the Kandahar base. They took control of the base from Marines on Saturday.

So far about 1,000 of the paratroopers are there and an additional 1,000 to 1,500 will be added in coming days, military spokesmen said.

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