U.S. forces intensified the search for remaining al-Qaida and Taliban troops in the mountainous region around Tora Bora today, paying special attention to any remnants left behind by fleeing soldiers or clues to where bin Laden could be hiding.
U.S. bombers and strike jets continued their flights around the Tora Bora region, but did not drop any bombs on the eastern Afghanistan area. Yesterday was the first day in two weeks that passed without explosions.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said U.S. warplanes would be available in Afghanistan, but the operation would now focus on a ground hunt for al-Qaida and Taliban leadership.
U.S. Marines would also expand the prison at the American base in Kandahar, Rumsfeld said today. The base will be expanded from a capacity of 300 people to 500 people, in preparation of the arrival of more POWs.
At the Kandahar prison, FBI agents prepared to assist CIA operatives in the interrogation of prisoners-of-war currently in U.S. custody.
Late last night, 15 prisoners, four of them injured, arrived at the prison. FBI agent Thomas K. Knowles said that none of the 15 prisoners were among the FBI’s 22 most wanted, but were mostly young men from al-Qaida, some of whom spoke Urdu, Pakistan’s chief language. U.S. officials said they believed the young men may possess valuable information on al-Qaida and the planning of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Five other al-Qaida operatives are being held by U.S. forces on the USS Peleliu amphibious assault ship in the Arabian Sea, including American Taliban fighter John Walker and Australian Taliban fighter David Hicks.
Prison riot in Pakistan
In Pakistan, a revolt erupted today between Pakistani authorities and al-Qaida and Taliban detainees, who were arrested attempting to flee from the besieged Tora Bora region.
When Pakistani guards transported the detainees to a prison in Pakistan, the al-Qaida prisoners seized their guns and opened fire on the bus.
Seven al-Qaida prisoners and six Pakistani police were killed in the revolt, and 21 al-Qaida prisoners escaped after the bus overturned.
Pakistani authorities said they recaptured half of the prisoners, and would continue to search for the fugitives.
Some Pakistani officials have said they would detain only foreign al-Qaida fighters and would likely release Afghan and Pakistani soldiers.
James F. Dobbins, the American special envoy to Afghanistan, met with Pakistani officials in Islamabad to talk about improving border patrol.
“Pakistani officials reaffirmed their commitments to us as regards the strict border controls,” Dobbins told reporters, but he also conceded that many al-Qaida fighters have virtually disappeared into Pakistan.
Rumsfeld said that Pakistan has captured several hundred fugitives from Afghanistan and that the Pakistani government was “doing a good job” in arresting al-Qaida and the Taliban.