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American Taliban Fighter Under U.S. Control in Afghanistan

By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 3, 2001 – The Pentagon had little information to share on a man who is alleged to be a U.S. citizen captured while fighting for the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The man was among roughly 80 surviving Taliban prisoners recaptured after they holed up last week under the complex near Mazar-e Sharif where Taliban members staged a bloody uprising, Joint Chiefs spokesman Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem said at a Pentagon press briefing today.

Opposition forces eventually pumped water into the prisoners' underground hiding places and flushed them out. The uprising resulted in hundreds of dead, including the first known American combat fatality, CIA officer Johnny Michael Spann.

Media outlets have identified the man as John Walker, 20, from California. He told American reporters in the area that he converted to Islam at 16 and has been with foreign Taliban forces in Afghanistan for the past six months.

"The only thing I can say about this individual is that this is somebody who claims to be an American citizen," Stufflebeem said. "That claim is being respected for the moment until facts can be established. It appears that he is injured and is receiving medical attention."

The admiral wouldn't discuss the man's status -- whether he is under arrest or is considered a prisoner of war. "U.S. forces have control of him. In terms of his disposition, that has not yet been defined," Stufflebeem said.

U.S. military forces in Afghanistan over the weekend focused on striking emerging targets in support of opposition forces near Kandahar, the admiral said. Coalition forces increased attacks on Al Qaeda and Taliban command and control elements "particularly in cave and tunnel complex areas," he noted.

U.S. forces also worked to establish airfield operations in Northern Afghanistan to "enhance humanitarian assistance operations."

Slightly more than 100 strike aircraft -- including 90 from sea-based platforms -- struck Dec. 2 in 10 planned target areas generally around Jalalabad and Kandahar, Stufflebeem said. The areas were targeted, he said, because defense leaders believed Osama bin Laden and the Taliban leaders might be there. He couldn't say, however, how close U.S. forces are to capturing these key figures.

Operational planners are being "very deliberate" in deciding what should happen next, Stufflebeem said. "The next day's step is based upon the conditions that are affected today," he said. "Until you actually got them, you don't know how close you actually are."

During the briefing, Stufflebeem stressed that flying over Afghanistan is still dangerous business. "Our aircrews are still flying prudently because there are still surface-to- air, man-portable weapons that are being fired into the air," he said. "I don't know the numbers of what might be a Stinger or what might be a Russian variant of that or what might even be just a rocket-propelled grenade, but they're shooting at aircraft."

U.S. forces dropped leaflets around Jalalabad and Kandahar and continued Commando Solo broadcast missions, Stufflebeem said. Two C-17 cargo aircraft dropped more than 34,000 Humanitarian Daily Ration packets north of Kandahar, bringing the total delivered to more than 2,125,000, he said.

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