- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 9, 2002

U.S. forces in Afghanistan captured two senior al Qaeda leaders Monday and confiscated computers, cell phones and documents that may provide clues about terrorist activities, the Pentagon's top general said yesterday.
"We're exploiting those as we speak," said Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Meanwhile yesterday, an official of the U.S.-backed Afghan interim government, however, said yesterday that top Taliban officials wanted by the United States have been freed after surrendering to the interim government under an amnesty arrangement.
Gen. Myers said the Taliban officials were exactly those people U.S. forces would like to get their hands on.
Khaled Pashtun, an interim government spokesman in Kandahar, told reporters that former Justice Minister Mullah Toorabi, former Defense Minister Mullah Obaidullah, and former Industry and Mines Minister Mullah Haqqani, a former ambassador to Pakistan, had been freed under an agreement that protects members of the former Taliban government who turn themselves in.
"Obviously, individuals of that stature in the Taliban leadership are of great interest to the United States, and we would expect that they would be turned over, absolutely," Gen. Myers said. "We expect them to turn them over. Let me just leave it at that."
Military operations also were carried out against a large tunnel and cave complex in eastern Afghanistan that was identified last week as a regrouping point for Taliban and al Qaeda forces scattered around the country, Gen. Myers said.
The large al Qaeda base has been under attack since last week after fighters were spotted gathering at the location, along with artillery and tanks.
A U.S. military team involved in interdiction operations attacks against enemy forces apprehended 14 al Qaeda fighters without resistance near Gardez-Khowst, the four-star general said.
"The U.S. team determined that two of these individuals met the criteria for detention and moved them to Kandahar," he told reporters at a Pentagon briefing. Along with the al Qaeda fighters, the team also picked up several laptop computers, cell phones, some small arms and training documents.
The two senior al Qaeda leaders, who were not identified by name, were sent to a makeshift prison near Kandahar along with the captured goods, he said.
Gen. Myers said the two men "were senior enough where they might have the kind of information that we're looking for in terms of operational methodology, future operations and so forth."
The men were captured near what Gen. Myers described as the very large Zawar Kili military complex, where attacks and searches continued.
"We have found this complex to be very, very extensive," he said. "It covers a large area."
Additional buildings in caves or bunkers were discovered late Monday, and two U.S. air strikes were called in using F-14s that dropped precision-guided bombs. An F-18 struck the facilities with additional bombs.
"The sweep of this extensive complex continues, again, as we speak," Gen. Myers said.
The number of al Qaeda and Taliban members captive in U.S. control is now 364, of which 302 are at Kandahar, 38 are at Bagram, 16 are at Mazar-e-Sharif and eight are on the USS Bataan.
Gen. Myers said the al Qaeda terrorist network has been disrupted in Afghanistan, but still has "a fairly good base there that we are yet to get at."
"We've worked the Afghanistan piece, and we think that's had some impact," he said. "It may lead to future operations that will be successful, and I'm not talking now just military operations, but other operations as well."
Pentagon analysts currently are studying where to go next.
Gen. Myers said the first prisoners captured in Afghanistan will be moved "soon" to the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
U.S. military forces have been sent to reinforce the base, capable of holding up to 2,000 prisoners, against al Qaeda prisoners considered extremely dangerous.
"Obviously, any time you have detainees who will sacrifice their life to kill you for what you stand for that's the most dangerous type of individual you can have in your control," Gen. Myers said. "It's a security issue you need to deal with."
The total number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan is between 3,500 and 4,000, Gen. Myers said.
The CIA also has deployed a small number of operations officers who are working with U.S. special-operations commandos.
Interrogation of detainees has produced some valuable information, he said. "We think we have thwarted some attacks," Gen. Myers said, refusing to provide more details.
U.S. forces continued to search the Zawar Kili complex, and warplanes again bombed the area Monday night after repeated bombardment since Thursday, Gen. Myers said.
"These were not friendly forces, and we had evidence that the compound was active with al Qaeda," Gen. Myers said.
Gen. Myers said the military is continuing its search for top al Qaeda and Taliban leaders, including Osama bin Laden, who is blamed for the September 11 terrorist attacks, and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.
Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem told reporters Monday that the Pentagon would stop discussing the locations of the top leaders after several close attempts to capture some fell through.
"Nobody is frustrated," Gen. Myers said yesterday about the hunt. "This is very, very difficult work. I think we are getting better at it, by the way."

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