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US to Seek Custody of All Taleban, al-Qaida Leaders - 2001-11-30

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Friday that the United States will seek custody of all Taleban and al-Qaida leaders captured in Afghanistan. Mr. Rumsfeld said U.S. personnel in Afghanistan are questioning captured Taleban and al-Qaida supporters but have not yet taken any into custody from the forces holding them.

However, speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, the defense secretary made clear the Bush administration will eventually seek to take senior Taleban and terrorist detainees under control, possibly to face U.S. military trials.

"We would want all, each, every single senior Taleban leader. We would want al-Qaida people not to be set free. We would want them not released into other countries, where they can continue to perpetrate terrorist acts, and we would do everything reasonable to see that we had access to those people, first to interrogate them and find out who they are, and second, if they are people that we believe we want to actually get physical custody over them," he said.

Mr. Rumsfeld spoke as anti-Taleban forces, backed by U.S. airstrikes, continued to hammer away at the last pockets of Taleban resistance in the southern city of Kandahar, and at caves and tunnels in the east, thought to be the hiding place of al-Qaida operatives.

The defense secretary said Taleban leader Mullah Mohamed Omar appears determined to try to mobilize his remaining forces.

But he also says the United States will oppose any deal in which the Taleban would surrender its Kandahar stronghold in return for special concessions for Mullah Omar. "The United States would vigorously oppose any idea of providing him amnesty or safe passage of any type," he said.

Mr. Rumsfeld again warned that, despite battlefield advances by anti-Taleban forces, and an expanding U.S. troop presence, Afghanistan remains dangerous, and he said there is the risk of further American casualties.

At the same time, though, he said the United States would prefer that Afghan opposition forces provide internal security, especially for aid deliveries, rather than an international peacekeeping force.