Three Taliban Fighters Claim to Be Americans


By ROBERT BURNS --- The Associated Press WASHINGTON (Dec. 3) - Three people who claim to be American citizens and who fought on the side of the Taliban militia are now under the control of U.S. forces or allied opposition forces in northern Afghanis

A man identified as John Walker is receiving medical care from U.S. forces after being discovered among captured Taliban troops and al-Qaida fighters who had holed up in a fortress in Mazar-e-Sharif. CNN reported that Walker, a convert to Islam, had suffered grenade and bullet wounds.

In an interview posted on Newsweek magazine's Web site, his parents identified him from photos as John Philip Walker Lindh, 20, of Fairfax, Calif.Two other people who claim to be Americans are under the control of the northern alliance,a defense official said,speaking on condition of anonymity. The official knew few details about these two, whose identities have not been established and whose physical condition could not be determined.

Asked about Walker, Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem, the deputy director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he could not say whether Walker is considered a prisoner of war or whether he would be returned to the United States.

Stufflebeem said Walker's status has 'not yet been defined.'
'The only thing that I can say about this individual is that this is somebody who claims to be an American citizen,'' he said. ''That claim is being respected for the moment, until facts can be established.'

Walker's father, Frank Lindh, said Monday he had hired a lawyer and wanted to visit his son, who converted to Islam at 16 and had studied in Yemen and Pakistan.

'We're also very grateful the special forces picked him up. We know John is safe and we're very grateful for that,' Lindh said in an interview on CNN's 'Larry King Live.' 'We've had no communication of any kind from the government yet.' Lindh said he was concerned about some statements his son reportedly made supporting the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the Taliban's resistance to the U.S. anti-terrorism campaign.'I don't know of any information that he's done anything wrong,' Lindh said. 'I hope he could be debriefed and come home.'The U.S. government could find it difficult to successfully criminal charges against Americans fighting for the Taliban.

A case against Walker ''would be a tricky thing to prosecute because the Constitution requires two eyewitnesses to the act of treason,'' said University of North Carolina law professor Eric Muller. ''I would think somebody in the Justice Department will have to take a very careful look at this.'' Also, Bush's military tribunals are limited to foreign nationals, not U.S. citizens.

On the 58th day of the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan, which President Bush undertook in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, U.S. officials said American special operations forces are now in northeastern Afghanistan near the Tora Bora mountain base where Osama bin Laden may be hiding.

The officials said the U.S. special forces are working with local Afghans to collect information they hope will lead them to bin Laden and his top lieutenants. U.S. special forces have been operating in most parts of Afghanistan for several weeks, but U.S. officials had not previously disclosed their presence near Tora Bora, a mountain base that veteran Afghan fighters describe as an impregnable fortress.

Stufflebeem said the U.S. special forces are not conducting a cave-to-cave search for bin Laden. The main focus of the U.S. effort in that area, he said, is bombing targets believed to be linked to bin Laden. He denied reports that U.S. bombs had mistakenly struck villages in the Tora Bora area.

''This is an area that is pretty well-known'' to U.S. military planners as ''an area where Taliban and al-Qaida forces have been and in numbers,'' he said. ''We have heard anecdotal reports that this is an area where Osama bin Laden has been using some of his wealth to buy local village chieftain support.''

The other main focus of U.S. bombing in Afghanistan is Kandahar, the southern stronghold where Mullah Muhammed Omar and other senior Taliban leaders are believed to be holding out against opposition forces.

Stufflebeem said U.S. pilots are reporting seeing portable surface-to-air weapons fired at them around Kandahar. He said these may be Stinger anti-aircraft missiles or Russian versions of them. A contingent of more than 1,000 U.S. Marines has set up a base about 70 miles southwest of Kandahar and has been conducting armed reconnaissance patrols. One of their missions is to interdict supply lines leading to and from Kandahar and to shut off potential escape routes for Taliban and al-Qaida fighters. As of Monday the Marines had not undertaken such a mission, officials said.

Stufflebeem there are at least four ''pockets of resistance'' in northern Afghanistan - two east of Mazar-e-Sharif and two west of that city. In one, in Balkh province, about 2,000 Taliban and al-Qaida fighters are holed up and trying to work out a surrender arrangement, a senior defense official said.

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