'I'm surrounded by Americans, I can't get out'

US forces have captured a man who is believed to be a top financier for Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network or the Taliban during an operation in southeastern Afghanistan, the military said.

Troops also detained at least eight other people and seized more than 150 Kalashnikov assault rifles, 200 explosive booby traps, a mortar, several cases of hand grenades, rocket launchers, rockets, heavy machine guns and military communications equipment, Lt. Col. Martin Schweitzer, commander of the 82nd Airborne’s 3rd Battalion, said on Wednesday.

The arrests and weapons seizures took place during Operation Champion Strike, which began Saturday and ended Tuesday.
The operation, involving about 1 000 troops mostly from the 82nd Airborne Division, was centered in the Bermel Valley, about 240 kilometres south of the capital Kabul.

The valley is in Paktika province on the border with Pakistan. The operation began shortly before 8 a.m. Saturday with a raid on a the Bermel Bazaar, about 10 kilometres from the Pakistani border. Between 200 and 300 soldiers surrounded the market and started searching.

By late afternoon, soldiers had gone through the 200 buildings in the bazaar, arresting 14 people, including the suspected financier. Eight of them were brought to the US military based in Kandahar and other six were released.

“He is a significant target,” Schweitzer said of the financier, who was not identified. “It’s great to get the bad guys.”

Schweitzer said the man was caught by surprise by US soldiers and just before his capture was heard saying in an intercepted radio transmission: “I’m surrounded by Americans and I can’t get out.”

A large amount of weapons were found in the bazaar, along with passports, al-Qaida and Taliban documents and mobile or satellite phones.

The area south of Kabul near the border with Pakistan is one of the most active fronts in the US-led war against al-Qaida and the Taliban.

On Monday, while searching another village, four men fired on Afghan forces as American soldiers prepared to deploy. One of the men involved in the firefight was detained by US troops and sent to Kandahar. It was not immediately clear what happened to the other three men.

At one house in the village, soldiers found Kalashnikov magazines and grenade canisters during an initial search.

But, upon closer inspection, a newly mud-plastered wall was discovered to be false. Soldiers dug through to find 17 rockets, hand grenades and anti-tank mine and a variety of documents, including a postcard with Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar’s name written on it, rosters of names and Qurans. - Sapa-AP

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