The Washington Post

Paul Wong
A Marine unloads his vehicle in front of a garbage burn at the American military compound at the Kandahar airport yesterday.<br><br>AP PHOTO

U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan captured two senior al-Qaida fighters and bombed a suspected al-Qaida compound amid signs of continued resistance in a province south of Tora Bora that has been a longtime terrorist stronghold, defense officials said yesterday.

The two al-Qaida members were among a group of about 14 fighters apprehended late Monday near an underground cave complex used by Osama bin Laden”s terrorist network, the officials said.

While declining to identify the men, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters they were considered important enough to transfer to a detention facility in the southern city of Kandahar where U.S. authorities have been interrogating suspected al-Qaida and Taliban members. Seized in the process were computers and cell phones that Myers said might provide additional intelligence clues.

The capture added to a mounting collection of detainees, equipment and files that U.S. authorities say they are trying to exploit to build a more complete picture of the al-Qaida network and head off potential future terrorist operations. As of yesterday, the number of detainees under U.S. control had grown to 364, with more expected.

As U.S. ground troops conclude their search of the Tora Bora caves that were the focus of an intense hunt for bin Laden and senior associates last month, the center of U.S. combat action has shifted south to the Zhawar Kili al-Badr cave complex and the area around the towns of Khost and Gardez in eastern Afghanistan”s Paktia province.

Myers said U.S. forces investigating the Zhawar Kili compound, after three days of air attacks against it in the past week, have been surprised by the enormous extent of it, particularly its warren of underground caves.

“There was just no indication of that from any other” surveillance or reconnaissance system, he said. “I”m just saying there was a large piece of it that was in caves and underground and that the structure was more extensive, I think, than we had forecast it to be.”

Myers reported two new airstrikes late Monday on a suspected terrorist compound near the camp. An F-14 fighter jet dropped two precision-guided bombs on one building, and two hours later, an F-18 jet dropped two more guided bombs on a bunker, he said.

Myers released a video of the first strike, which showed several vehicles near the building as well as an unidentified individual outside it.

“These were not friendly forces, and we had evidence that the compound was active with al-Qaida,” the general said.

Meanwhile, in southern Afghanistan, a spokesman for Kandahar governor Gul Agha raised U.S. concerns by reporting the surrender of three ministers of the vanquished Taliban regime but adding that the men including two on the U.S. most-wanted list would not be detained.

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