US looking for clues as former Taliban officials released


Top Taliban officials wanted by the US have been allowed to go free after surrendering to the Afghan interim government under an amnesty arrangement.

They, along with other top Taliban officials, had been set free under an agreement that protects members of the former government who surrender voluntarily.

Meanwhile, ground troops swept an area around a former al-Qaeda base in eastern Afghanistan, revealing a huge network of caves and underground bunkers.

Two suspected al-Qaeda fighters with cell phones and laptops were detained, the US military say.

US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers US said warplanes were summoned on Monday to bomb buildings and bunkers found several miles from the sprawling Zhawar Kili complex that had previously escaped the notice of US reconnaissance.

The complex, housing tanks and artillery and described as "huge" by eyewitnesses. Gen Myers said the complex was hit in 1998 in a cruise missile attack aimed at bin Laden.

US forces captured 14 suspected al-Qaeda fighters in the area, two of whom appeared to be more senior and a more promising source of intelligence.

Laptops, cell phones, small arms and some training documents were captured with them. Gen Myers expressed hope the computers' hard drives and cell phones would yield valuable intelligence.

The US military hopes to obtain intelligence from the former Taliban ministers and the two ranking al-Qaeda in their hunt for Osama bin Laden and Taliban chief Mullah Mohammad Omar.

The new Afghan government said on Tuesday that both men were believed still in the country and that the three-month bombing campaign would not stop until the manhunt succeeded. But a senior minister said Kabul wanted better coordination of air raids to prevent civilian deaths.

In a reminder that bin Laden and other leaders of the al Qaeda network might never be taken alive, a Sudanese fighter blew himself up while trying to escape from a hospital in the southern city of Kandahar. Several other wounded fighters, mostly Arabs, remained holed up with weapons in the hospital.