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Terror data gleaned by U.S. may help prevent attacks

SHARE Terror data gleaned by U.S. may help prevent attacks

WASHINGTON — The senior military commander of the war in Afghanistan said Friday that coalition forces have in recent days unearthed useful intelligence information about the makeup and plans of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network that may help prevent further terrorist attacks.

From scouring al-Qaida documents, computer hard drives, and other information found in safehouses, training camps and other facilities, U.S. officials have made significant progress in putting together a "mosaic" of the terror network believed to have operating cells in as many 60 countries, Army General Tommy R. Franks, head of the U.S. Central Command, told reporters at his Tampa headquarters.

"We have taken from within Afghanistan . . . a great many pieces of documentary evidence," he said. "We have found an awful lot. We have learned an awful lot."

The intelligence haul is being sifted in Afghanistan and in the United States with an emphasis on information that may point to ongoing terrorist operations.

Franks confirmed that information gleaned from Afghanistan helped lead law enforcement officials in Singapore last month to foil an al-Qaida plot to bomb several U.S. diplomatic and military targets as well as prevent other potential attacks, which he did not specify.

"It would be accurate to say insights have been gained, such as the insights into the potential problem with Singapore," he said. "I'm not sure I'd want to characterize which specific piece of information came from within Afghanistan as opposed to which piece came from arrests in someplace else."

He added: "There have been other examples of places where valuable intelligence has been gained and put together."

U.S. forces searching the remains of a large al-Qaida complex near the town of Zawa Kili in eastern Afghanistan — destroyed last week after intense U.S. airstrikes — have found, among other things, several filing cabinets that Franks said were "full of documentary evidence."

He said hard drives, entire computer systems and personal diaries have been removed and are being scrutinized. A large cache of light and heavy weapons was also discovered and is being destroyed by U.S. forces.

The U.S. military and other agencies have established the ability in Afghanistan to quickly screen intelligence information, defense officials said. The process is intended to determine which information can wait for analysis back in the United States and which requires immediate attention by a variety of agencies and governments to prevent a possible attack.

Similar stashes of documents and weapons have been found in Kabul, Kandahar, Jalalabad. "Inside Afghanistan there are many such places," Franks said. "We're in a hurry to get to them because . . . we want to prevent the possibility of a future attack."

Despite progress in drawing a clearer picture of the enemy, however, Franks said that at least 10 pockets of al-Qaida and Taliban resistance remain, and allied air and ground forces will continue to target them.

Some of them, according to defense officials, are to the north, northwest and northeast of the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, particularly near Baghran and Khost, about 20 miles from the Zawa Kili complex.

Franks said all of the pockets of resistance are places "where we will physically go and root it out."

Stressing that cooperation from nearby countries remains forthcoming, the general also denied press reports that the royal family in Saudi Arabia is seeking a U.S. military withdrawal from the country, where U.S. forces have been posted since the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War and from where the air operations over Afghanistan are directed.

"I have not received a suggestion by the leadership of Saudi Arabia that we should change our posture or our military-to-military relationship with Saudi Arabia," he said.

"The Saudis have provided the support we've needed in order to do this work. I have not been approached, either in writing, by telephone or any other way, by Saudis suggesting that we're not welcome there."

Franks reiterated that whereabouts and condition of the bin Laden remain unknown.

"We don't know the location of bin Laden," he said, adding that he had no independent information to confirm a statement Friday by President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan that the al-Qaida leader is suffering from kidney disease that requires dialysis every three days and may already have died from his ailment.

Meanwhile, a level of normalcy continued to return after more than five years of strict Taliban rule and decades of civil war.

U.S. officials said 21 nongovernmental organization have returned in recent weeks to provide aid, all 11 convoy routes and nine airfields are now open for the delivery of humanitarian supplies. and several state-of-the-art medical facilities have been set up, including one established by Jordan in Mazar-e-Sharif and another in Kabul being run by Russia. Spain and South Korea will be bringing in additional medical supplies and facilities in coming weeks.

Up to 35,000 refugees have returned to their homes. An estimated 4,400 Afghan de-miners are working to reduce the country's vast landmine problem, and all of the leadership positions and 16 of 30 provincial governors have been named by the interim government.

But in perhaps the biggest sign of change since the removal of the Islamic regime last year, 80 female staff have returned to Kabul Uhiversity and 200 others have registered for classes next semester.