ALIZAI, Pakistan – Pakistani troops spent Thursday prowling borderland ravines on the hunt for escaped Al Qaeda prisoners of war, recapturing about a dozen and ending the day with the last holdouts holed up in a cave.
Local officials said the seven remaining escapees, part of a group of mostly Arabs who broke away Wednesday, were left with four Kalashnikov assault rifles, little ammunition and no food in near-freezing temperatures.
Earlier, a Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman had said only five Al Qaeda fighters remained at large.
The escaped prisoners had been among more than 150 suspected Al Qaeda fighters, many of them Yemenis, who were captured by Pakistani troops near Parachinar coming across the border from the nearby Afghan battleground of Tora Bora.
The prisoners were put onto buses to be transferred to a larger prison in the town of Kohar, but one group of about 50 commandeered the bus they were on. When it overturned, they sprinted away.
Seven Arabs and six guards were killed in the initial struggle, a government spokesman said. The Pakistani news agency Afghan Islamic Press reported three more Arabs later died of their wounds, but other sources in the area said only one died during the night.
Troops and some of the fugitives exchanged fire early Thursday, killing an Al Qaeda fighter and a soldier.
Security forces at roadblocks every six miles stopped vehicles. Only residents, recognized by their tribal affiliation and dialect, were allowed anywhere near Parachinar.
Since the prisoners' break, intensified patrols along the border have also caught at least eight other Al Qaeda fighters entering from Afghanistan, officials said on condition of anonymity.
One man believed to be a close associate of fugitive Taliban leader Mohammed Omar was detained Tuesday, the officials said, but they refused to identify him.
Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Aziz Ahmad Khan said Al Qaeda fighters caught fleeing Tora Bora were being interrogated, but he did not say by whom.
Pakistan already has granted U.S. interrogators access to Al Qaeda members caught earlier in Pakistan. At least 25 were questioned by a joint U.S.-Pakistan interrogation team, said Interior Ministry officials.
In Tora Bora, the search for traces of bin Laden and his lieutenants continued. U.S. Special Forces soldiers were seen sifting through documents and other materials, apparently brought out from caves abandoned when Al Qaeda fled Monday after weeks of holding out against an offensive.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told journalists in Washington that U.S. forces are helping Afghan tribal fighters clear caves "one by one" in Tora Bora. He said the work is slow and difficult, complicated by bad weather and darkness.
The Pentagon is considering sending a larger contingent of Marines to Tora Bora to help the few dozen special operations troops already there in the cave search, a defense official in Washington said on condition of anonymity.
It had been reported — but never confirmed — that bin Laden had been present in Tora Bora during the fighting. But his whereabouts remains unknown.
Interrogations of the scores of Al Qaeda fighters captured in Pakistan should yield a "treasure trove" of leads in the campaign to hunt down bin Laden and eliminate his terror network, Rumsfeld said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report