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Pool Report: Marines Start Seizing Weapons

This is a dispatch from the Afghanistan reporters' "pool," a Pentagon-authorized system that allows a single journalist to file for all accredited news organizations.

CAMP RHINO, Afghanistan — U.S. Marines have begun a drive to seize weapons from fleeing Taliban soldiers and Al Qaeda fighters at checkpoints in southern Afghanistan, officers said Tuesday.

Marines have started efforts to "collect weapons and destroy them after we have serialized them," Marine spokesman Captain David Romley told reporters, adding he believed the process began on Tuesday.

"If we see weapons, we collect them and identify them" and take photographs of them, he said.

Romley could not say how many, if any, weapons had been seized so far. Nor did he know exactly why records of them were being kept.

The spokesman said the weapons seizures were part of ongoing efforts to block communications and supply lines as well as escape routes for Taliban soldiers or Al Qaeda guerrillas in the area of the southern city of Kandahar.

"If they're Taliban and they lay down their weapons immediately they will be allowed go their merry way," said Captain Stewart Upton, another spokesman for the U.S. Marines at this desert base in southern Afghanistan.

"If they're Al Qaeda they will be apprehended unless they show any kind of hostile intent in which case they will be killed," he added.

Marine officers are also carrying photographs of Al Qaeda and wanted Taliban leaders to help in capturing or killing them.

The Marines have also begun clearing ground at Camp Rhino for a "detention facility" to hold Al Qaeda or Taliban members. The only prisoner for now is John Walker, an American who was captured fighting with the Taliban.

U.S. Marines in helicopters and light armored vehicles set up a staging area Monday closer to Kandahar to make it easier to block escape routes for Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda followers and Taliban who do not want to surrender.

Asked if the impounded weapons could be handed over to anti-Taliban groups allied with the United States, Romley replied: "Our policy is to destroy those weapons."

In seizing weapons, officers said, the Marines have to determine whether the party that had been stopped was indeed a Taliban or Al Qaeda member rather than an opposition fighter or a shepherd who may also carry a gun.

"It's largely based on your judgement and experience as the situation presents itself," Romley said. "There is definitely a learning curve."

Said Upton: "We don't want to upset those Afghanistan people who have helped us" in the war effort by seizing weapons from them.

Romley said the Marines were using some of their own interpreters of Afghan origin or borrowing some from the Navy to help in the "interdiction" operations but added there was a need for more interpreters.

In general, the Marines had to keep their guard up because it was so hard to distinguish between Taliban soldiers and opposition fighters as they dress the same and wear beards.

"We've seen an increase in military vehicles in our area of operations," Romley said. "We're very vigilant that we try to deduce whose assets that is."