- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 15, 2002

U.S. military forces in Afghanistan have found two large caches of arms that were stashed by al Qaeda and Taliban fighters, Pentagon officials said yesterday.
Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters the arms were found last week near Orgun, south of Gardez in eastern Afghanistan, and near Herat in northwestern Afghanistan.
The arms included more than 1.8 million rounds of ammunition, 600 rocket-propelled grenades, 700 mortar shells, 600 howitzer shells and five Russian-made T-54 tanks.
The two arms caches are considered among the largest finds since military operations began in Afghanistan Oct. 7. "If they are not [the largest], they are close," Gen. Pace said. "We have found tanks in the past. We have found large ammunition caches in the past. Whether or not this is the largest, I don't know, but it's a good-sized take."
"The ammunition, depending upon its condition, will either be destroyed in place or turned over to the Afghan National Army for their training," Gen. Pace said, noting that the first of 10 weeks of training for Afghanistan's national army began yesterday with about 250 soldiers.
Gen. Pace also noted that the Central Command, which is in charge of U.S. forces in Southwest Asia, will set up a new headquarters known as Joint Task Force Afghanistan beginning at the end of the month.
Army Lt. Gen. Dan McNeill, commander of the 18th Airborne Corps, will take command of the task force that will include Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine troops.
Gen. McNeill will command the 7,000 U.S. military troops in the region and will be under the direction of Army Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of the Central Command, based in Tampa, Fla.
The creation of the task force will allow Gen. Franks to focus on other parts of the region.
Iraq is considered a high-priority issue for Pentagon military planners. The Bush administration has vowed to oust the regime of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and is mobilizing an opposition force in northern Iraq.
Asked if the new task force in Afghanistan is a sign of a long-term U.S. military presence, chief Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said the Pentagon is constantly assessing its forces in the region.
"We have made it so clear every step of the way that we'll stay as long as it takes to get the job done, but we have no desire to stay one day longer," she said.
Gen. Pace said U.S. military forces on Sunday killed five Islamic militants and captured 32 others in a midnight raid near Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan.
The raid was prompted by intelligence reports indicating that a senior Taliban leader was in the area. Gen. Pace said the Taliban leader may have been killed in the combat operation.
Meanwhile, U.S. special forces troops have captured a former Taliban regional commander in Kandahar, an Afghan general said yesterday.
Abdul Salam was taken into custody late last week after he met in Kandahar with American officers and an aide of the city's governor, said Gen. Khan Mohammed, the head of the Afghan military in Kandahar.
Nicknamed Mullah Rocketi because of his affinity for high-tech weaponry used against Soviet occupiers in the 1980s, Abdul Salam was the Taliban's top commander in the eastern city of Jalalabad during the Islamic militia's rule in Afghanistan.
U.S. officials in Kandahar were not immediately available for comment, and the details of the detention were not clear, according to the Associated Press. Abdul Salam was being held by U.S. troops, who have a detention camp at Kandahar's airport, Gen. Mohammed said.


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