U.S. officials in Afghanistan examining potential bases

Anti-Taliban sources report visitors at airstrip

War On Terrorism

The World

November 10, 2001|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

SHIRKAT, Afghanistan - For more than a week, U.S. officials have been secretly touring opposition-held areas of Afghanistan, including the front line north of the capital, Kabul, possibly scouting locations for a military base.

The Northern Alliance refuses to say officially how many U.S. soldiers and civilians are in territory it controls, or what they are doing beyond directing airstrikes against Taliban positions.

But privately, the alliance acknowledges that it has been assisting U.S. officials in civilian dress as they check on an airstrip under construction about 40 miles northeast of Kabul and on the front lines to the south of it.

Afghan guards at a huge, largely empty textile factory right beside the new airstrip said in interviews yesterday that two Western-looking men visited the complex Oct. 4. It was the same day four men in U.S.-made sportswear were spotted observing Northern Alliance military maneuvers on a hillside down the road.

The textile factory would make an ideal base if U.S. ground troops were sent here. It sits on about 120 acres of land with numerous large, empty warehouses. The complex is surrounded by a high stone wall, topped by barbed wire, and has guard houses at each corner.

The factory's guards weren't told who the men were or the reason for their visit, but they said one spoke English. It was the first time foreigners had visited the plant since it was shut down 20 years ago, said guard Faiz Mohammed, 58, who has worked there 47 years.

U.S. officials appear to be laying the groundwork now for troop deployments by assessing how their logistical needs could be met in a country where electricity, clean water and other basics are in short supply.

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