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U.S. Holds 23 Taliban, Al Qaeda; Tora Bora Search Continues

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 20, 2001 – U.S. military officials in Afghanistan now hold 23 Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters in custody, according to Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clarke.

Dec. 19, three detainees from Mazar-e Sharif joined five others already aboard the USS Peleliu, she told reporters here. Another 15 detainees are now in U.S. custody in Kandahar.

Although U.S. officials have not confirmed the identities of most of the prisoners, Clarke said, they are a mix of Taliban and Al Qaeda.

The five detainees already aboard the Peleliu include an Australian and John Walker, the American found among captives after a prison uprising near Mazar-e-Sharif in early December. The remaining three, as well as the latest three to arrive, have not yet been identified, Clarke said.

Pakistani officials are holding a few hundred detainees caught fleeing Afghanistan, Clarke noted. The Pakistanis are still in the sorting process and have not yet turned any prisoners over to U.S. authorities, she said.

These prisoners should be a "treasure trove" for gathering intelligence, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said at a Dec. 19 Pentagon press conference. "We will be deeply involved in interrogation and intelligence gathering," he said.

Rumsfeld is still working on the logistics for conducting military tribunals, according to Clarke. "We're not ready to say this is how we're going to do it or how the process works," she told reporters, "but the secretary is drilling into it and working pretty hard on it."

Tora Bora remains the focus for U.S. and anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan, she said. Ground troops are systematically searching the hundreds of caves in the Tora Bora region, gathering intelligence and searching for survivors.

U.S. and coalition aircraft flew 141 sorties in Afghanistan yesterday, but no ordnance was dropped, she said.

Bombers, jet fighters and other aircraft remain in the skies ready to respond to ground forces' requests for close air support and bombing strikes, but "targets haven't come up," Clarke said.

Commando Solo broadcasts and leaflet drops continued south of Kabul, north of Kandahar, and in the Tora Bora region.

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