KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) -- A famed U.S. Army paratrooper division took over the largest American military installation in Afghanistan on Saturday, taking command from Marines who were returning to their ships.
The handover was accomplished without a formal ceremony. The switch has been under way for a few days, with troops from the 101st Airborne Division relieving Marines from bunkers along the perimeter of the base established at Kandahar's airport.
Although the Marines are shifting nonessential personnel, they will "retain the capacity for any missions that might pop up," said Marines spokesman 1st Lt. James Jarvis.
The base in the former heartland of the Islamic extremist Taliban regime remains tense more than a month after the Marines arrived.
Troops report frequent sightings of armed men outside the perimeter, and the base came under fire last week during the first flight of al-Qaida and Taliban prisoners from a temporary detention facility to a high-security jail at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Earlier this week, a man claiming to have significant information about the Taliban showed up at the gate. He remained under interrogation Saturday, said Army spokesman Maj. Ignacio Perez, who declined to say if the man was being formally held or would be free to leave if he wished.
About 2,000 Marines were at the Kandahar base at the height of their deployment and military officials declined to say how many would remain as the Army takes over. Dispensing with base duties would free some Marines for quick deployment on other missions.
The United States raised the specter of renewed foreign meddling in Afghanistan on Friday, saying that Iran may be sending pro-Iranian Afghan fighters to destabilize the newly installed U.S.-backed government.
U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad stopped short of directly accusing Iran of interference but cited unspecified reports that Afghan fighters and money were being sent from Iran into the extremely volatile country to build opposition to Prime Minister Hamid Karzai.
"All of those things would be regarded as interference," Khalilzad said in Kabul, the capital.
Earlier this month, President Bush warned Iran against harboring al-Qaida fighters and trying to destabilize Afghanistan's new government. An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman rejected Bush's remarks as "baseless."
Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency reported Saturday that Iran has reinstated visa requirements for Arabs from Persian Gulf nations to keep out al-Qaida members.
Iran's U.N. ambassador, Hadi Nejad Hosseinian, said the measure was taken to "remove the possibility of al-Qaida members' use of the Iranian soil to travel to other countries," the agency reported.
The United States is continuing to scour Afghanistan for clues to the whereabouts of Saudi exile Osama bin Laden, the head of the network al-Qaida that the United States says was responsible for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"I honestly don't know where he is," said Gen. Tommy Franks, the war's commander, but vowed he would be found.
"The world is not a large enough place for him today," the general said Friday in the United States. "He may hide today, he may hide tomorrow, but the world is not large enough a place for him to hide."
Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf told CNN that he believes bin Laden may have died because he couldn't get treatment for a kidney ailment. U.S. officials said they have no evidence bin Laden suffered from severe kidney problems or had died.
Franks also echoed Khalilzad's comments about Iran.
"There has been a perception among several of the leaders inside Afghanistan that Iran has in some cases not been terribly helpful," Franks told reporters.
U.S. forces are continuing to work against pockets of Taliban and al-Qaida resistance -- about 10 of them at any given time, Franks said.
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