March 25, 2002 -- Several suspected biological weapons laboratories have been found in Afghanistan near the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff revealed today.
Some of the equipment found in the labs could have been used to make anthrax, said Gen. Richard Myers, "but not all the equipment you need was present."
Among the items found were petri dishes and slides, which could be used to grow anthrax cultures; a fermenter, where cultured organisms multiply; and a dryer, used to get the substance ready for packaging.
Out of 370 samples taken from 60 sites throughout Afghanistan, anthrax was found at two places and ricin was found at three others, Myers said. Ricin is a toxin derived from processed castor beans that, when inhaled, causes one to suffocate, turn blue and die within 48 hours.
But Myers also told today's Pentagon press briefing that there was "no conclusive proof of active agents," and that evidence of the germs could be naturally occurring.
He also said it appeared someone had attempted to destroy some of the equipment.
Myers was joined by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who announced that the United States will start training an Afghan national army to help restore stability in the war-torn Central Asian nation.
However, many of the details, including the size of the training force, their mission, and the cost were yet to be determined, he said.
The United States is looking for ways to raise money for the trainers and is looking for help from allies, Rumsfeld said. Myers said he expected the trainers to number in the "low hundreds at most, but we're still fleshing that out."
British and German members of the international security force in Afghanistan have already begun providing basic training for a limited number of Afghan soldiers around Kabul.
The Arrivals of the Warthogs
At a U.S. air base near the Afghan capital of Kabul, A-10 Thunderbolt attack jets have been brought in to allow for a quicker response to al Qaeda and Taliban resistance as U.S. officials warn that resistance fighters may be trying to organize themselves.
Although the A-10s have been used in military operations in Afghanistan before, they were previously stationed outside Afghanistan.
But speaking to reporters at the Bagram Air Base today, Maj. Bryan Hilferty, a spokesman for the 10th Mountain Division, said the planes would be based at Bagram in order to deploy them closer to potential targets.
An attack jet specially designed to provide air cover for ground troops, the A-10, also nicknamed the Warthog, can fly slow and low and has proved useful in the harsh mountain terrain of eastern Afghanistan where coalition forces continue to battle pockets of al Qaeda and Taliban resistance.
"The A-10s that are coming in here give us an additional air platform," Maj. Gen. Frank Hagenbeck told reporters in Bagram today. "They bring close air support and a little bit more coordinates than our helicopters can cover on any given mission."
The announcement came as a dispute among Afghan allies of the United States highlighted the complicated situation U.S. troops face.
Afghan authorities arrested two Afghans working for U.S. forces who are suspected of involvement in an attack on a security chief in Khost, in eastern Afghanistan, reported The Associated Press. The two men reportedly sought refuge at the Bagram base.
Although Sur Gul, the security chief of the Khost province, escaped unhurt in the attack on Sunday, his bodyguard was killed and two people were injured in the attack, Afghan officials said.
There was no comment on the incident from U.S. military officials in the region.
British Troops in Bagram
In other developments:
The first batch of British Royal Marines arrived in Afghanistan today to take part in the U.S.-led mission to flush out pockets of al Qaeda and Taliban resistance.
Former Afghan King Mohammed Zahir Shah postponed his scheduled trip to Afghanistan over the weekend amid reports that the former monarch had security concerns about his visit.