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Saturday, 9 February, 2002, 05:21 GMT
Taleban foreign minister surrenders
US marine at Kandahar base
Mutawakil is reported to be held at the Kandahar base
US military officials say their forces in southern Afghanistan are questioning the foreign minister of the ousted Taleban administration - Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil.

Afghan officials earlier transferred Mr Mutawakil to the US military base at Kandahar, the US officials said. The city was formerly the centre of Taleban power.

Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil
Mutawakil was a close aide to Taleban leader Mullah Omar
Mr Mutawakil was a close associate of the fugitive Taleban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, and correspondents say he is the highest-ranking Taleban official so far to be taken into custody.

The US military hopes that Mr Mutawakil will provide key intelligence about the Taleban and Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

A US official quoted by Reuters news agency said Mr Mutawakil surrendered to "Norzai, the mayor of Kandahar, and he turned him over to us".

"As we've done with people that have turned themselves in, we will question him," said Major Brad Lowell, a spokesman for the US Central Command. "If we take any detainees we would hope to get some information."

Taleban spin doctor

But the BBC's Kate Clark in Kabul says Mr Mutawakil had privately voiced concern about the increasing influence of Bin Laden and other Arab militants. So more hardline Taleban officials may not have shared key information with him, she says.

Articulate and relatively moderate, Mr Mutawakil played an important propaganda role for the Taleban, putting a gloss on systematic human rights abuses, our correspondent says.

US search

US troops were deployed on Friday in a remote mountainous area of eastern Afghanistan to search for possible al-Qaeda victims of a US air strike.

Osama Bin Laden
The US does not know if Osama Bin Laden is alive
General Richard Myers, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed that a Predator pilotless drone operated remotely by controllers on the ground had attacked "some individuals" on Monday, but he did not know whether they were al-Qaeda members.

More than 50 US soldiers are in the Zhawar Kili area of Paktia province and are poised to begin a search, at an altitude of more than 3,000 metres (10,000 feet).

Earlier, a US official said the drone had fired a Hellfire anti-tank missile at a group of al-Qaeda members.

"At least one was killed and possibly others. It is not clear who the individual was," said the official.

The person reported to have been killed was said to be tall, leading to some speculation that it may have been Bin Laden himself, who is about 6ft 4in tall.

But another US official said several al-Qaeda leaders were tall, including Ayman al-Zawahri, Bin Laden's most senior lieutenant.

American CBS News, quoting a senior Pentagon source, said that several al-Qaeda leaders had died when the missile hit the group near the Zhawar Kili caves.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jon Leyne
"American officials hope he can provide valuable information"
The BBC's Damian Grammaticas in Kabul
"The Americans will be doing their best to find out what he does know"
See also:

09 Feb 02 | South Asia
Profile: Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil
07 Feb 02 | Americas
CIA missile 'hits al-Qaeda leaders'
22 Nov 01 | Americas
Spy plane hunting Bin Laden
07 Feb 02 | Americas
US resumes Camp X-Ray flights
06 Feb 02 | Americas
'American Taleban' to stay in jail
22 Nov 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Al-Qaeda's origins and links
18 Jan 02 | World
Global raids target al-Qaeda
27 Nov 01 | South Asia
Analysis: What next for al-Qaeda?
02 Jan 02 | South Asia
Analysis: Al-Qaeda to struggle on
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