U.S. says it captures two al-Qaida; finds computers, cell phones

Tuesday, January 8th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ U.S. forces in Afghanistan captured two senior al-Qaida terrorists and seized laptop computers, cell phones and training documents near a huge cave complex filled with tanks and weapons that has been heavily bombed in recent days, Pentagon officials said Tuesday.

U.S. warplanes continued to attack the complex, launching two new strikes late Monday on additional buildings and caves, or bunkers, found in the area, said Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

An F-14 dropped two precision-guided bombs on one building, and an F-18 dropped two more guided bombs on a bunker, he said.

The two al-Qaida, captured near the cave complex, were among a group of 14 fighters apprehended without resistance by U.S. forces on the ground, Myers said. The two were transferred to a detention center at Kandahar, where U.S. officials have been interrogating suspected al-Qaida and Taliban. The other 12 remain in the custody of Afghan officials, the general said.

``They were the ones of interest that we thought were senior enough where they might have the kind of information that we're looking for in terms of ... future operations and so forth,'' Myers said at the Pentagon briefing Tuesday.

In recent days, American warplanes have struck repeatedly at the cave complex and at other areas around Khost in eastern Afghanistan's Paktia province. U.S. special forces teams are on the ground in that area, where a Green Beret soldier was killed in an ambush Friday.

Paktia province long has been known as an area where al-Qaida terrorists had a large training and supply complex. A camp hit this week was struck by U.S. missiles in 1998 in retaliation for bombings blamed on al-Qaida guerrillas of two U.S. embassies in Africa.

But Myers said that once U.S. forces were able to explore on the ground there, they found the complex much bigger than previous intelligence had indicated.

``We have found this complex to be very, very extensive. It covers a large area,'' Myers said. ``When we ask people how large, they often describe it as huge.''

Earlier, officials said three more people identified as top al-Qaida leaders are believed dead in the fighting across Afghanistan.

Abu Hafs the Mauritanian, also known as Mahfouz Ould al-Walid, Abu Jafar al-Jaziri, also known as Omar Chaabani, and Abu Salah al-Yemeni are believed to have been killed, said a U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Abu Hafs was believed to be about age 26 and had ties to al-Qaida terrorist operations. Al-Jaziri and al-Yemeni were logistics coordinators for the terrorist group.

Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, who ran some of bin Laden's training camps, has been captured, the official said. Other details were unclear.

Myers said officials expected to make the first transfer soon of detained suspected Taliban or al-Qaida members to a new site being built at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Until then, U.S. forces guarding the fighters inside Afghanistan are being extremely careful, aware that the fighters would be willing to die in order to attack Americans, Myers said.

``Obviously, any time you have detainees who will sacrifice their life to kill you or what you stand for ... that's the most dangerous type of individual you can have in your control,'' Myers said. ``It's a security issue you need to deal with ... The folks at Kandahar are dealing with that security issue.''

In all, U.S. forces were holding 346 suspected Taliban or al-Qaida members, he said. One detainee previously held aboard a U.S. ship had been moved to the airfield at Bagram, near Kabul, because the United States had better interrogation capabilities there, Myers said. He would not elaborate.