The International Committee of the Red Cross, ICRC, said it has been able to visit thousands of fighters captured in Afghanistan.

Red Cross officials said, so far, their workers in Afghanistan have visited over 2,400 detainees, including 16 Taleban and al-Qaida fighters who are being held at a U.S. marine base near the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.

ICRC spokeswoman Antonella Notari said, in any conflict, the Red Cross considers the first visit with a prisoner of vital importance. "That is when we take the full identity of the people detained. And that is a protection factor. As is well known in many conflicts throughout the world, is that when we can register prisoners, it is much easier to follow up on them. It is also much easier to keep track. It is a guarantee against any disappearance or any detention incommunicado," she said.

Ms. Notari made no comment about the prison conditions. She said Red Cross delegates discuss any problems in the treatment of prisoners with the authorities and make concrete recommendations on what has to be done.

Because of the shortages of supplies in Afghanistan, Ms. Notari said the Red Cross also is providing assistance to prisoners, particularly those held by the Northern Alliance. "We are providing some medical supplies to the infirmaries that need to take care of sick or wounded prisoners and we are providing a few other items, including some food in some of the places where there are a high number of prisoners and where the detaining authorities are not in a position yet to look after them," said Ms. Notari.

In addition to those held in prison camps, ICRC spokeswoman Notari said several captives, including the American Taleban fighter John Walker, are being detained on a ship off the coast of Pakistan.

The Red Cross visited Mr. Walker when he was held near the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif. Ms. Notari said delegates plan to visit him aboard the ship as soon as arrangements can be worked out with U.S. officials.