ROBERT BURNS, AP Military Writer
– The U.S.-led hunt for al-Qaida terrorists seeking haven in and around the Horn
of Africa has quietly paid off with the recent capture of midlevel operatives,
the Marine general overseeing the mission says.
Gen. Michael DeLong said in an Associated Press interview Friday that U.S. forces
working with friendly governments in the region captured an unspecified number
of al-Qaida members.
was the first public disclosure of the successes, although DeLong offered few
specifics. He did not, for example, say which of the countries in the region
including Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti and Yemen had yielded
the terrorists or whether they were captured on land or at sea.
the deputy commander of Central Command, said the people captured in recent months
were not among the terror network’s most senior.
have picked up al-Qaida members in those countries, » DeLong said in the telephone
interview from his office at Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla. He said
the successes had been kept « low key » at the request of the local governments.
« Not the
very highest rank, » was his description of the members of the organization
led by Osama bin Laden (news – web sites). He said military operations over the
past six months had captured « medium-level al-Qaida in three or four or five
of the countries there. »
main military focus of the global war on terrorism has been Afghanistan (news
– web sites), particularly in recent months along the porous border with Pakistan.
But since the fall of the Taliban rule in Afghanistan, the U.S. military has given
more attention to finding remnants of al-Qaida in the Horn of Africa region.
two-star Marine Corps general, John Sattler, is running the operation, formally
called Task Force Horn of Africa, from the USS Mount Whitney in the Gulf of Aden
off the coast of Djibouti. There are about 400 people aboard the ship, including
liaison officers from countries in the region. About 900 U.S. troops, including
special operations forces, are based ashore at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti.
said governments in the region had been extremely helpful in the hunt for al-Qaida.
He said he could not predict how long the Horn of African operation would continue
but that Central Command intends to move the task force’s headquarters ashore
in Djibouti in the next month or so.
three-star general said even if no al-Qaida were being captured in the Horn of
Africa, the mere presence of American forces there for a sustained period provides
a « comfort factor » for governments in the region.
we’re helping them look for al-Qaida members has paid huge dividends, » he
said. Senior government officials have been very forthcoming with U.S. officials
in the search for terrorists.
and his staff in Tampa have focused largely on the Horn of Africa and Afghanistan
while Gen. Tommy Franks, the head of Central Command, has been running the Iraq
(news – web sites) war.
9,000 American troops in Afghanistan may be there for another year or two, DeLong
said, and now that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has declared major combat
operations over, more countries are expressing interest in joining in reconstruction
projects with local Afghan communities.
keys to rebuilding Afghanistan and preventing its return to a terrorist haven
include civil affairs teams that are moving across the country to help restore
basic services, reopen schools, train teachers and instill a sense of confidence
about the future, DeLong said.
first of what the Pentagon (news – web sites) calls Provincial Reconstruction
Teams has been functioning in Gardez since February. The key to its success, DeLong
said, has been the inclusion of Afghan soldiers who are part of an emerging national
army trained by U.S. and French troops.
people of Gardez had never seen a national Afghan force before…. They related
with them, » he said. « They became sort of the center of gravity because
they were comfortable to have, quote, their own soldiers, around. »