WASHINGTON -- U.S. military officials are hoping that two senior al-Qaida fighters and their computers and cell phones will provide valuable information in the fight against the terror network blamed for the attacks on Sept. 11.
U.S. forces found the two men late Monday among 14 suspected al-Qaida members captured in eastern Afghanistan near an extensive training base.
The huge Zawar Kili complex of caves, tunnels and buildings was used as a training camp and most recently as a place for fleeing al-Qaida members to regroup, possibly preparing to move from Afghanistan into Pakistan.
American forces have focused their offensive in and around the Zawar Kili area in recent days as they wrapped up operations in Tora Bora, another mountainous area dotted with al-Qaida caves and hide-outs.
The two suspects found Monday were taken immediately to the U.S.-run detention center in Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan, said Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the war's commander, said clues to the pair's importance included "the way that they carried themselves, their language skill and that sort of thing." Franks, head of U.S. Central Command, which covers Afghanistan and nearby countries, spoke Tuesday night on PBS' "NewsHour."
Besides the computers and phones, "some small arms and training documents were also found," Myers told a Pentagon news briefing Tuesday. "We're exploiting those as we speak."
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 Friday in an ambush.
As U.S. forces sweep through the area, they have found a large network of buildings, bunkers and a warren of underground caves, Myers said.
"We have found this complex to be very, very extensive. It covers a large area. When we ask people how large, they often describe it as huge," the Air Force general said.
U.S. bombers struck a cache of tanks and other weapons in the area on Sunday. They launched two new strikes on additional buildings and bunkers found nearby late Monday, Myers said.
An F-14 fighter jet dropped two precision-guided bombs on one building, and an F/A-18 jet dropped two more guided bombs on a bunker, he said.
Paktia province has long been known as an area where al-Qaida terrorists had a large training and supply complex. One camp hit this week was struck by U.S. missiles in 1998 in retaliation for bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa blamed on al-Qaida guerrillas.
Earlier Tuesday, officials said that three more people identified as top al-Qaida leaders are believed dead in the fighting across Afghanistan.
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 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.
In all, U.S. forces were holding 364 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 specially trained interrogators there, Myers said. The general would not identify the detainee.
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