KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – U.S. investigators on Wednesday questioned a man who described himself as a financial supporter of the Taliban and showed up voluntarily at the biggest U.S. base in Afghanistan offering information.
Pentagon officials said the man had given money to the Taliban but had not been a member of the Islamic regime that ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. It was not known what information he had about the complex web of support of Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terrorist network, which was sheltered by the Taliban.
Marine spokesman Lt. James Jarvis said the man showed up Tuesday at the Kandahar airport, where thousands of U.S. troops are based and a detention center holds hundreds of Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters.
The man remained on the base Wednesday but was not being detained, Jarvis said. A Pentagon official said on condition of anonymity that he was not on the U.S. list of wanted men, but Jarvis said investigators were "jumping with joy."
At the Pentagon, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the man was being questioned. Officials did not disclose his identity or nationality or say how he came to the base.
U.S. officials initially said the man was an Al Qaeda finance official but later Pentagon officials said he was a Taliban backer.
The nature of the man's purported donations were unclear. However, during the years the Taliban was in power, a major source of income for the Islamic militia purportedly came from kickbacks from big-time smugglers, including drug dealers, who were willing to pay in order to be allowed to continue their operations.
In contrast, the new government is flat broke. Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived in Kabul early Thursday to confer with Afghan leaders ahead of an aid conference in Tokyo next week, where donors will contribute funds to rebuild the shattered country. The first secretary of state to visit Afghanistan since the mid-1970s, Powell traveled in secret from Pakistan under tight security, to protect his party from any remaining Taliban or Al Qaeda threat.
In Washington, President Bush again ruled out participation by U.S. troops in the U.N.-mandated peacekeeping force in Afghanistan. During a meeting in which he encouraged Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit's offer to take over leadership of the force after Britain's term is finish, the president said:
"I've made it clear that our troops will be used to fight and win war. And that's exactly what they've done."
Also Wednesday, a Marine color guard saluted as a flag-draped coffin holding the remains of the last of seven Marines killed in a crash a week ago was loaded onto a C-17 at Kandahar and flown to Germany en route to Dover Air Force Base. The crash of the refueling plane in Pakistan was the most deadly single incident for U.S. forces in the Afghanistan campaign.
The runway at Kandahar airport was darkened to prevent the C-17 from becoming a target for attackers.
Also Wednesday, a third planeload of Taliban and Al Qaeda prisoners arrived at the U.S. Navy detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, bringing the number held there to 80. At about the same time, a fourth group of 30 more prisoners was escorted aboard another flight to Guantanamo. They were expected to arrive sometime Thursday. About 320 detainees remain at Kandahar.
Ahead of Powell's visit, a U.S. congressional delegation met Afghan Prime Minister Hamid Karzai in the capital, Kabul, and pledged that American involvement in Afghanistan would not end with the winding down of the conflict.
"While our effort began as a war against terrorism, it continues now as an effort to rebuild this country," said Sen. Majority Leader Tom Daschle, a Democrat from South Dakota and the delegation's leader.
But another top U.S. congressman said the United States won't take the lead in rebuilding Afghanistan and urged other countries to "step up to the plate" ahead of a Tokyo aid summit for the war-torn nation.
"We carried the bulk of the military load. We are not going to carry the bulk of the reconstruction load," Democratic Rep. Tom Lantos of California said in Tokyo.
The struggle to restore services in the capital took a step forward with the reopening of Kabul's international airport, which closed three months ago because of heavy bombing. The control tower is still a shattered hulk, and bomb craters dot the taxiways, but a Boeing 727 belonging to the national carrier, Ariana Afghan Airlines, took off on a symbolic test flight, circling over the airport before landing again.
In another sign of Afghanistan's attempts to regain normalcy and good international relations, Karzai on Wednesday issued a decree prohibiting poppy production and the production and trafficking in narcotics, including opium and heroin.
Narcotics have been a major source of illicit income for Afghanistan, which produces much of the opium and heroin used in Europe and Karzai's administration has been under pressure to launch a full-scale crackdown against the trade.
In October, the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics estimated the Taliban collected at least $40 million from kickbacks and fees from the opium trade before the militia's leader Mullah Mohammed Omar banned poppy cultivation.
The U.N. refugee agency said Wednesday that authorities in neighboring Pakistan had let hundreds of vulnerable Afghan refugees move from a border area, but that thousands more remain blocked there.
Pakistan acted after "weeks of appeals," said the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. The agency was allowed to relocate 600 people from Chaman, near the border with Afghanistan, but UNHCR said more than 13,000 Afghans were stuck near Kili Faizo camp, close to Chaman.
In other developments:
--Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Wednesday that 240 or 250 American military personnel are now divided among several locations in the Philippines to fight an extremist group linked to Al Qaeda. And more are on the way.
--The U.N. Security Council adopted sanctions Wednesday against Usama bin Laden, his terror network and remnants of the Taliban -- requiring all nations to impose arms embargoes and freeze their finances.
-- An official at the Yemeni Foreign Ministry said his government had received information that al-Qaida was considering an attack on the U.S. Embassy there. The official said the information came from interrogation of a senior Al Qaeda figure now in U.S. custody. The U.S. Embassy in the Yemeni capital suspended most consular services Monday, citing what it said were credible security threats.
-- The State Department said it is looking into a report that a man was kidnapped during a humanitarian mission in Afghanistan and is being held by a tribal warlord for $25,000 ransom. Amanda Bowers of Haven, Ala., said her husband, Clark, was kidnapped while on a private mission to deliver medical supplies and other humanitarian aid.
-- A group of 92 German troops set off for Afghanistan, the second part of the country's contribution to the British-led stabilization force in Kabul. Ten Italian officers landed at the Bagram airport north of Kabul.
-- Kofi Annan will visit Afghanistan Jan. 25, the first U.N. secretary-general to travel to the central Asian nation in over 40 years.