WASHINGTON — The U.S. military shipped 30 more Taliban and al-Qaida detainees to its naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Sunday, bringing to 50 the number sent there so far for interrogation before possible military tribunals on terrorism charges.
Two U.S. military personnel guarded each detainee as they left Kandahar, Afghanistan, aboard a giant C-17 transport for the 8,000-mile journey, the U.S. Central Command said.
The detainees were shackled and wearing taped-over ski goggles and two-piece orange jump suits, as were the initial 20 who arrived on Friday, said Air Force Lt. Col. Martin Compton, a spokesman for the Florida-based command.
"The situation was exactly the same as before — the uniforms, the shackles, the whole bit, and the number of escorts," he said. In addition, the detainees wore surgical masks over their mouths and noses, apparently because some had tested positive for tuberculosis, Compton said.
Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar was spirited from his compound after U.S. bombs began falling in Afghanistan last fall, one of many times U.S. allies came close to killing or capturing Osama bin Laden's chief protector, Newsweek magazine reported Sunday.
The mullah's personal driver, Qari Saheb, told the magazine he was with Omar at his compound in Kandahar on Oct. 7.
Omar initially spurned advisers' pleas to flee, according to Saheb, saying, "Even if Bush shows up at my door, I will not leave."
Knowing Omar's sport utility vehicles would be targeted, aides ushered him into what Newsweek described as a rickshaw. From his compound he was taken to the center of town and spent the next several days sleeping in a different house each night, the driver told the magazine.
U.S. warplanes returned over the weekend to try to close off a cave complex in eastern Afghanistan believed to have been used as a regrouping point by fleeing forces loyal to bin Laden, the Central Command said Sunday.
Two Air Force B-52s and a B1-B bomber pounded tunnel entrances Saturday in Zhawar Kili, an area about 30 miles southwest of Khost, close to the border with Pakistan, said the command.
"The idea is to completely render this infrastructure unusable," said Compton, "It is a large facility."
Compton said the body of a sixth U.S. Marine was recovered Saturday from the wreckage of a KC-130 refueling plane that crashed Wednesday in Pakistan. The search was continuing for remains of the seventh crew member, Compton said.