- The Washington Times - Monday, January 7, 2002

About 1,500 soldiers are heading to the U.S. Navy base in Cuba to prepare for the arrival of al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners, although the biggest prizes Osama bin Laden and Mullah Mohammed Omar remain uncaptured.
But U.S. officials said yesterday that they have taken custody of the man who ran al Qaeda's terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and have moved the highest-ranking Taliban official in U.S. custody former Taliban Ambassador to Pakistan Abdul Salam Zaeef to an American warship in the Arabian Sea.
About 1,000 troops from bases all over the United States many of them military police have received orders to go to the Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the prisoners will be held under maximum security, Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said yesterday.
Another 500 U.S. troops will go to the base in the coming weeks.
"This is our part, and we are going down to take care of business," said Col. Terry Carrico, commander of the 89th Military Police Brigade at Fort Hood, Texas, just before boarding a plane to Cuba to prepare for the troops' arrival.
Some of the troops are being sent to transport the prisoners from Asia to the island, officials said.
Others will quickly prepare a section of the base to hold an initial first group of fewer than 100 prisoners, though up to 2,000 prisoners may eventually be housed there, Lt. Cmdr. Davis said.
Gen. Tommy Franks, the head of the military campaign in Afghanistan, said Friday that some prisoners are to arrive at Guantanamo within 10 days. The U.S. Navy base there is surrounded by the hostile communist regime of Fidel Castro and therefore is well-defended and would offer few avenues of escape for prisoners.
More than 300 suspected Taliban or al Qaeda members were in U.S. custody this weekend, military officials have said. Marines were guarding 275 prisoners at the base in Kandahar, 21 at Bagram air base north of Kabul and one in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.
Another nine prisoners, including American Taliban John Walker, are being held on the USS Bataan in the Arabian Sea. Afghan and Pakistani authorities are holding thousands more prisoners captured during the fighting.
American officials are hoping that their two highest-profile catches will provide valuable intelligence about bin Laden's al Qaeda network, blamed for the September 11 terrorist attacks on America, and about the Taliban movement that harbored it.
Besides Mr. Zaeef, U.S. officials also have custody of Ibn al-Shayk al-Libi, who ran al Qaeda terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and was transferred Saturday from anti-Taliban forces to U.S. authorities at Kandahar airport.
Marine Lt. James Jarvis said 25 new prisoners arrived Saturday night in Kandahar from Pakistan, where they were captured while trying to flee. They were being interrogated for information on al Qaeda terrorists in the area.
"We are looking for things we can act upon," Lt. Jarvis said. "We remain active in our quest to [uncover] al Qaeda and Taliban" guerrillas.
Mr. Zaeef probably was the best-known face of the Taliban, giving daily news conferences at his embassy in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, during the height of the U.S.-led bombing campaign in October and November to topple the Islamist regime.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees rejected his application for refugee status. Pakistan, the Taliban's strongest supporter before the September 11 attacks, said Mr. Zaeef no longer was protected by diplomatic immunity after the Taliban government fell.
In Cuba, the prisoners will be held in "maximum security" conditions, the Pentagon said, and will be treated in accordance with international standards for military prisoners, with access to Red Cross and other nongovernmental organization personnel.
The military is planning tight security in light of the rioting by al Qaeda prisoners at Mazar-e-Sharif that left hundreds dead, including CIA officer Johnny "Mike" Spann, Lt. Cmdr. Davis said.
"We are cognizant of the incident that took place in Mazar-e-Sharif," he said. "Many of these people have demonstrated their determination to kill others, kill themselves or escape."
No decision has been made whether to hold military tribunals for some of the prisoners at the Navy base, he said.
Many of the troops will be Army military police from Fort Hood. Military personnel are also being sent from Fort Campbell, Ky., Camp Lejeune, N.C., and Norfolk Naval Station, Va., among other bases, Lt. Cmdr. Davis said.
The prison operation will be commanded by Marine Brig. Gen. Michael R. Lehnert from Camp Lejeune.
Kathy Gannon of the Associated Press contributed to this report from Kandahar, Afghanistan.

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