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Some al-Qaida Fighters Captured in Afghan Fighting, bin Laden Still At Large

The U.S. General in charge of the military operation in Afghanistan said some al-Qaida fighters have been taken captive in the last 24 hours of combat in the Tora Bora region. But the prisoners do not include al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

Army General Tommy Franks said U.S. military authorities have a special plan for handling Osama bin Laden and other top al-Qaida or Taleban leaders if they are captured. "Yes, we certainly do have a plan in place for either the capture of bin Laden or the capture of any of the other people which you have seen on our list of the top 20 or 40 al-Qaida and Taleban leadership personalities," he said.

General Franks declined to give specifics beyond saying those plans could see bin Laden or other senior prisoners transferred to U-S ships for detention.

But the commander of the U.S. Central Command, speaking from his headquarters in Tampa, in the southern state of Florida, admited bin Laden has not yet been found, though it is suspected he may be among al-Qaida fighters now hemmed in the mountainous Tora Bora region of eastern Afghanistan.

General Franks said Afghan troops are engaged in a pitched battle there with an al-Qaida force estimated in size from 300 to 1,000 fighters. U.S. bombers have been attacking al-Qaida positions there almost around-the-clock, often using earth-penetrating munitions. U.S. and other foreign commandos are also on the ground.

General Franks said these coalition forces have taken some al-Qaida prisoners in the past 24 hours. They have also seized documents and other potential intelligence information from a cave complex previously occupied by al-Qaida. "We have taken al-Qaida prisoners in this fight and yes we have removed documents and other sort of evidentiary matters from this complex," he said.

General Franks gives no details on the documents and says the prisoners remain in Afghan custody. The only known prisoner in direct U.S. military custody is the so-called American Taleban, John Walker. He has now been transferred from a Marine base outside Kandahar to a U.S. ship.

Meanwhile the Central Command has released copies of some previously-undisclosed U.S. leaflets dropped recently over Afghanistan in a bid to sway Afghan public opinion against al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

In one Taleban leader Mullah Mohamed Omar is depicted as a dog being held on a leash by Mr. bin Laden. The caption, in Dari and Pashto, asks "who really runs the Taleban?"

The United States is offering a multi-million dollar reward for information leading to the capture of al-Qaida leader, the accused mastermind of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States that claimed more than 3,000 lives.