KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) Guarded by U.S. troops and attack dogs, a second group of suspected Osama bin Laden supporters departed yesterday for a U.S. prison camp in Cuba as U.S. bombers flew their most punishing raids in weeks on caves near the Pakistani border.
The 30 prisoners, shackled and with their faces covered, shuffled in the darkness onto a C-17 transport plane for the flight to the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station in Cuba.
The men were among nearly 400 Taliban and al-Qaida suspects interned at Kandahar. A U.S. military official said one of them had identified Richard Reid, accused of trying to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight with explosives hidden in his sneakers, as someone he had trained with at a camp run by bin Laden”s al-Qaida network.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Reid was identified from a photograph, but had no further details.
The 30 detainees flown to Cuba will join 20 others who arrived from Kandahar on Friday. Hundreds are to be eventually flown to Guantanamo Bay.
Lights at the Kandahar base were shut off except for low-intensity red and green lighting as the men were marched onto the plane. Security was tight, with attack dogs and Humvees with 50-caliber machine guns patrolling the area.
In Kabul, state-run television reported that Afghanistan”s interim government had ordered provincial officials to recruit 6,000 men to become the backbone of a professional military free of the ethnic and territorial divisions that have led to years of conflict.
In Pakistan, ahead of his departure for Kabul, Fazal Hadi Shinwari, Afghanistan”s newly appointed chief justice, vowed to sentence bin Laden and fallen Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar to death if they were brought before him.
The war remained very much alive in the rugged hills of Paktia province along the Pakistani border. Daylight bombing that began in the morning over Zawar, the site of a suspected underground hide-out of al-Qaida and Taliban members, continued throughout the day and intensified at night into what appeared to be the heaviest attack since last month”s strikes on the Tora Bora cave complex.
Buried beneath the slate gray mountains on the border with Pakistan, the Zawar camp has been hit by U.S. bombs over the past 10 days. It was the base of one of the Taliban”s senior commanders, Jalaluddin Haqqani.
Sur Gul, security chief of Khost, 20 miles to the southeast, said the underground passages continue to shelter Islamic militants mostly Pakistanis belonging to the now-banned Jaish-e-Mohammed group, Chechens and some of bin Laden”s Arab warriors. Locals say Omar and other Taliban figures may be in the area.
Intelligence reports said al-Qaida fighters had been using the area to regroup and move out of Afghanistan, the Pentagon has said.
Villagers say the bombing has been relentless and deadly. One of them, Noorz Ali, said 15 people were killed and most of the 35 homes destroyed in his village, less than two miles from the military camp.
Special forces, sighted several days ago in the Khost area, remained in the region yesterday, apparently seeking Taliban and al-Qaida holdouts but refusing to discuss their mission. Seven soldiers, weighed down with weapons and communications equipment and accompanied by heavily armed local guards, were sighted meeting with Bacha Khan, the governor of Paktia province.