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Arms Found, Taliban Commander Not

A weekend raid on an Afghan compound apparently failed to snare a senior Taliban commander for whom U.S. troops were looking, defense officials said Tuesday.

Interrogators are still trying to figure out who they did get in an operation Sunday in which five people were killed and 32 captured in a compound north of the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, said Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"It's possible that the leader we were looking for is among the dead, it's possible he is among the detained, it's possible that he wasn't there or that he slipped away," he told a Pentagon news conference.

He declined to name the target of the raid by U.S. special forces or describe the compound or intelligence that led troops there.

The compound where the raid occurred appeared to be an old home of elusive Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.

Other defense officials said on condition of anonymity that an initial evaluation seems to indicate that no high leaders are among those detained, two Pentagon officials said Tuesday on condition of anonymity.

Two huge al Qaeda and Taliban arms caches were found this past weekend in Afghanistan, including five T-54 tanks and more than 15,000 mortar rounds, 800,000 50-caliber machine gun bullets and 600 rocket-propelled grenades.

Were the caches found near Herat in northwestern Afghanistan and Orgun in the eastern mountains the biggest found in the seven-month-old Afghan war?

"If they are not, they are close," Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at the Pentagon.

Pace said the weapons would either be destroyed in place or turned over to the new Afghan army for use in training.

In other developments:

  • Interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai said he is pleased with security in the Afghan capital since international peacekeepers arrived and reiterated his plea for an expansion of the force into the chaotic countryside.

    Karzai told a news conference he was "very happy" with the force's performance in Kabul and was confident its mandate would be extended beyond June, when a grand council, or loya jirga, will select a transitional government. "They are staying in Kabul and the time will be extended," he said.

    "Indeed, the people of Afghanistan have asked that the (international) forces be deployed around the provinces," Karzai said. "But for the international community it's difficult."

    World leaders have repeatedly rebuffed Karzai's calls for the deployment of international peacekeepers outside Kabul, where rivalries among regional warlords threaten Afghanistan's stability as it emerges from decades of war.

  • Pace also said the U.S. training program for helping build an Afghan national army was beginning Tuesday with the first 250 soldiers and another 160 to follow soon. The U.S. military hopes some 18,000 soldiers can be trained in the next year and a half. Training is to be given to Afghan instructors who will eventually take over from the Americans, officials have said.
  • The U.S. is reorganizing its operations in Afghanistan under the leadership of the elite 18th Airborne Corps. Army Lt. Gen. Dan McNeill, commander of the 18th Airborne Corps, will soon move from North Carolina with a staff of up to 500 officers to lead a joint U.S. task force in charge of virtually all of the 7,000 U.S. troops in the country.
  • A U.S. postal worker recently charged with aiding a Muslim cleric convicted of trying to blow up New York buildings is now at the center of a probe into whether he helped the assassins of an anti-Taliban leader in Afghanistan, a law enforcement source said.
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