Pentagon won't say if senior Taliban captured
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. forces are holding more than 300 Taliban and al Qaeda members in Afghanistan, but the Pentagon declined Monday to disclose how many of those were the groups' senior officials.
Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem said U.S. forces hold 346 Taliban and al Qaeda detainees -- 300 of which are at the U.S. Marine base in Kandahar, Afghanistan. The rest are at Bagram air base outside Kabul, at Mazar-e Sharif and aboard the assault carrier USS Bataan in the Arabian Sea.
About 35 hard-core Taliban and al Qaeda leaders remain at large, interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai told NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday.
Among those detained by U.S. forces include Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan. Zaeef and John Walker, the American Muslim convert captured fighting with the Taliban, are among those nine held aboard the Bataan.
Many detainees are expected to be sent soon to the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The U.S. Southern Command, based in Miami, Florida, is establishing maximum-security facilities to accommodate 2,000 detainees at the base.
The detainees are being questioned for clues as to where senior leaders may be, Stufflebeem said.
"What we don't want to do is play our hands as to what may be coming next" while that intelligence is gathered, he said.
U.S. and Pakistani officials questioned Zaeef, 34, about the whereabouts of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar and accused terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.
The first of about 1,000 U.S. troops began deploying Sunday to Guantanamo Bay to set up the maximum-security facility.
Afghan forces are holding another 4,000-plus people, said Michael Kleiner, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross.
"They are being held in various places," Kleiner said. "Some are held by private commanders in temporary holding places, some are held in U.S. forces' bases, others are held in normal holding places in Afghanistan."
He said his representatives have been able to contact those held at all locations.
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