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War on terror far from over

But U.S. efforts shift to the pursuit, jailing of suspects

SHARE War on terror far from over

WASHINGTON — The U.S. anti-terrorism effort in Afghanistan seems as though it's winding down — an interim government has replaced the defeated Taliban regime, the bombing has tapered off, the Marines are leaving and Afghan refugees are going home.

But there's much more to be done, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld says.

Topping the to-do list is finding chief terrorism suspect Osama bin Laden and the second-most-wanted man, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, who have eluded the U.S. and other forces hunting them.

"We intend to capture or kill them, and that's the best we can do," Rumsfeld said.

Ten Americans have died since the war started three months ago, including an Army Green Beret killed Friday by small-arms fire outside the eastern Afghanistan town of Khost. He became the first member of the U.S. military to die by enemy fire inside Afghanistan in the campaign.

Since the war began, the country has been subjected to 72 days of steady bombing and fighting — shifting now to a snowbound pursuit of the prime fugitives and surprise airstrikes against remnant forces. The Army is coming in to replace the Marines.

U.S. bombers blasted a large cache of Taliban and al-Qaida armored tanks and weapons, American military officials said Monday.

Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said American aircraft flew 118 sorties and conducted four airstrikes in the Zawar and Khost area on Sunday.

That included the third strike in recent days of a military compound in eastern Afghanistan where bin Laden's followers have been regrouping, she added.

"That would be the third time on that complex," Clarke told reporters.

Khost is known as the headquarters of a former minister in the ousted Taliban regime, Jalaluddin Haqqani, who is high on the U.S. most-wanted list.

Khost also was used as a training base by al-Qaida and was targeted by U.S. cruise missiles following the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998. A number of al-Qaida fighters are believed to have slipped into the area after fleeing Tora Bora, the mountain cave complex seized by U.S.-backed anti-Taliban forces last month.

Meanwhile, Clarke said construction crews have begun beefing up the former refugee camps at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to deal with detainees taken in the Afghan fighting.

"It will be significantly different construction," Clarke said.

There were 346 suspected Taliban or al-Qaida members in U.S. custody this weekend, she said.

The Pentagon plans tight security for hundreds of al-Qaida and Taliban captives expected at the base and is sending 1,500 military police and other troops to build a prison there.

Already, 1,000 U.S. troops have orders for Cuba — some by way of southwest Asia, where they will help transport the prisoners to the base, officials said. Five hundred more soldiers will be ordered to the base in the coming weeks.

They will first build a prison on a section of the base and then guard it, Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said Sunday. Fewer than 100 prisoners are expected at Guantanamo within a week; base officials have been told to prepare for as many as 2,000 in the coming months, Davis said.

Meanwhile, two members of the Senate Intelligence Committee said there is a growing belief that bin Laden has fled Afghanistan and slipped into Pakistan.

Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., who is traveling with other senators in the region, said Uzbekistan's military intelligence service believes bin Laden has crossed the border into Pakistan.

"I fully expect the Pakistanis will do everything they can to help us locate bin Laden," Edwards said on "Fox News Sunday."

Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said bin Laden and other top officials may well have fled Afghanistan.


Contributing: Susan Schafer