SHIBERGAN, Afghanistan – Hoping to collect intelligence from captured Al Qaeda suspects, U.S. forces moved them by the batch from a northern Afghan prison south to a staging area in Kandahar where the American military is holding and questioning dozens more.
Military officials said the new detainees transferred Saturday from the prison in Shibergan come from 14 different nations. Many are believed connected to Al Qaeda, Usama bin Laden's terrorist organization.
"We're taking them out of here, and taking them down to Kandahar as quickly as we can," Maj. Joseph Fenty, commander of the forces conducting the operation at an overcrowded jail in Shibergan, said Saturday. "We're primarily looking at detainees that we can use for collecting intelligence."
The operation began Friday and involved dozens of American troops in bulletproof vests and armed with assault rifles. On Saturday afternoon, a convoy of about six vehicles, including two closed trucks, emerged from the prison and headed toward the nearby airport.
The 10th Mountain Division in Fort Drum, N.Y., said a task force consisting of units from the division transferred 76 detainees from Shibergan to Kandahar this weekend. The detainees were from 14 different countries, it said in a news release Saturday.
Earlier, 63 suspected Taliban or Al Qaeda members arrived at Kandahar airport, bringing the total of detainees at the Marine base's makeshift holding facility there to 124, a Marine spokesman said. The new arrivals came from undisclosed locations across the country and did not include the prisoners leaving northern Afghanistan.
The number of inmates at Kandahar — which has room for at least 250 — rose steadily last week, and the Pentagon expects dozens more in coming days, a Washington defense official said on condition of anonymity. American officials have said an undisclosed number of prisoners will be sent to the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo, Cuba.
The prisoners could be candidates for a U.S. military tribunal, which President Bush has authorized to judge and sentence terrorists who are not American citizens.
In other Afghanistan-related developments:
• Pakistan police seized arms and ammunition in an abandoned house in the border city of Quetta that were believed to have been smuggled from Afghanistan for possible terrorist acts, local police chief Shoaib Suddle said. The cache — 124 machine guns, 248 rifles, 342 mortar bombs and 30,000 rounds of ammunition — was the largest ever in Pakistan. Two suspects were arrested.
• The Pentagon confirmed a U.S. military strike in Afghanistan early Saturday on a "building used by the Taliban." The Afghan Islamic Press reported the strike occurred in Shekhan, a village in the eastern province of Paktia.
• Pakistani intelligence officers and FBI agents were interrogating more than 200 suspected members of Al Qaeda in Pakistan.
• Pakistan's military-led government has frozen the accounts of Sultan Bashir-ud-Din Mehmood and Abdul Majid, two nuclear scientists suspected of links with bin Laden, a central bank spokesman said Sunday.