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Marines Blast Tunnel System in Kandahar

Military: Area was apparently used by Taliban or Al Qaeda fighters as recently as a day earlier, officials say. Meanwhile, Afghan skies are relatively quiet.


WASHINGTON — Marines destroyed tunnels Tuesday on the fringes of their base at the Kandahar airport in southern Afghanistan that were apparently used by armed Taliban or Al Qaeda fighters as recently as a day earlier, defense officials said.

Associated Press and Reuters reported that a cache of weapons was found in the tunnels and in a nearby mud-walled house, but a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla., said no weapons were found at the site.

Marine Capt. Dan Greenwood told reporters in Kandahar that patrols Monday evening had spotted seven men heading toward an abandoned mud-walled house outside the base perimeter, the wire services said. Greenwood was quoted as saying the men appeared to be armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

Demolition Experts Blow Up Network

A patrol Tuesday morning set off for the site and found it abandoned, said Central Command spokesman Cmdr. Frank Merriman. He said demolition experts used conventional explosives to blow up the nearby tunnels.

The tunnels, a few hundred yards from the nearest Marine position, are in the same area where unidentified gunmen launched a night attack on U.S. forces at the airport last week just as the first planeload of prisoners was taking off for a U.S. naval base in Cuba.

No U.S. troops were injured in that firefight, which military officials believe was a probing attack to test the base's defenses.

As Marines continued to patrol the perimeter of the airport on the lookout for other Taliban or Al Qaeda fighters, 19 more prisoners were transferred into U.S. custody. Military forces are now holding 433 prisoners in Afghanistan, on a warship and in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The skies over Afghanistan were quieter Tuesday than they have been for all but a few nights since U.S. airstrikes began Oct. 7. Warplanes flew limited sorties over the country but didn't drop any bombs, Merriman said.

Minister Meets With Prospective Donors

In the Afghan capital, Kabul, interim Foreign Minister Abdullah and the U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, met Tuesday with representatives from 15 prospective donor nations, discussing what Afghanistan needs and what the world might give at a "pledging" conference scheduled for next week in Tokyo.

"Our infrastructure is shattered," Abdullah told the gathering of the Afghanistan Support Group, which was organized in Berlin last month to begin laying out a salvage plan for the country. "Our economy is in ruins."

Although international humanitarian aid has been crucial in heading off a famine and a worsening refugee situation, Afghanistan now needs non-humanitarian aid, Abdullah said. The shattered country needs money to cover everything from the back wages of government workers to the purchase of windows, phones and desks for federal offices, he said.

Over the past few days, Afghan and U.N. officials have begun pleading for relatively small sums to prop up the government of interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai while the transfer of larger aid packages is worked out.

Afghanistan has placed the cost of rebuilding at about $45 billion over the next 10 years--a sum that few outside observers expect will be pledged in Tokyo. In a study released Tuesday, the World Bank, U.N. Development Program and Asian Development Bank estimated the cost of reconstruction to be $15 billion over the next 10 years.

Brahimi's spokesman, Ahmed Fawzi, said Tuesday that the billions of dollars can wait but that millions are needed immediately.

Only $7 million of a promised $20 million had been wired into an emergency start-up account by Monday night, Fawzi said.


Schrader reported from Washington and Slater from Kabul.

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