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Gunfire erupts after detainees leave Kandahar

U.S. Marines escort detainees at Kandahar airport Wednesday.

(CNN) -- Gunfire erupted Thursday shortly after a C-17 transport plane containing 20 al Qaeda and Taliban detainees took off from a U.S. military base in southern Afghanistan.

The gunfire was not directed at the plane, which had taken off about 15 minutes earlier, a U.S. Central Command spokesman told CNN.

U.S. Marines at Kandahar International Airport answered the small arms fire with M-16 rifles and machine guns. Two Marine Cobra helicopters canvassed the area and tracer fire crisscrossed overhead.

The sedated, hooded prisoners were chained to their seats after boarding the aircraft under heavy security. The C-17 will stop in an undisclosed location, at which point the detainees will be transferred to a C-141 transport plane and taken to the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo, Cuba.

Many of the 331 other detainees in Kandahar, including 45 brought there Wednesday night, will eventually be moved to Cuba, where U.S. military personnel are constructing a detention center. (Full story)

Meanwhile, U.S. warplanes launched fresh strikes Thursday on the Zawar Kili complex in eastern Afghanistan, where military officials said intelligence information indicate Taliban and/or al Qaeda activities.

One B-52 and a B-1B bomber hit targets early Thursday with precision-guided munitions, said Maj. Ralph Mills of U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida.

An underground maze of passageways at Zawar Kili could cover 30 to 40 acres, sources told CNN, while the aboveground camp covers roughly four miles of the mountainous region.

CNN's Catherine Bond reports the next country the United States could target to look for al Qaeda cells and supporters might be Somalia (January 9)

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Latest developments

• In western Pakistan, U.S. military officials Thursday searched the site where a Marine Corps KC-130 refueling plane crashed into the side of a mountain, killing all seven Marines aboard. Radio operator Sgt. Jeannette L. Winters, 25, of Gary, Indiana, became the first female member of the U.S. armed forces to be killed in the U.S.-led war on terrorism. (Full story)

• Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld downplayed the possibility that enemy fire played any role in the aircraft's crash late Wednesday night. "There is no evidence that it was anything other than an aircraft crash," Rumsfeld told reporters.

• Al Qaeda and Taliban detainees are proving U.S. interrogators information that will help authorities better "predict terrorist activity," said Gen. Tommy Franks, the leader of U.S. military forces in southwest Asia. "What we can gain from the intelligence that we get from these detainees is about what the structure of al Qaeda is," Franks told CNN Thursday.

• The widow of Army Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Ross Chapman, the first U.S. soldier to die in combat in Afghanistan, on Thursday accepted the Combat Infantryman's Badge Second Award, Purple Heart and Bronze Star on behalf of her late husband. Officials also unveiled a memorial stone bearing Chapman's name at a ceremony in the Special Forces compound at Fort Lewis, Washington.

• The first of as many as 500 U.S. soldiers arrived in the southern Philippine city of Zamboanga on Thursday to train Philippine troops fighting against the extremist Muslim group Abu Sayyaf. Abu Sayyaf guerrillas took dozens of hostages last year, including an American couple, and have been linked to al Qaeda. (Full story)

• Richard Reid, accused of trying to ignite explosives in his shoes on a trans-Atlantic flight, belonged to a previously unknown Islamic terrorist network that may have links to al Qaeda, European investigators and intelligence officials said. Sources said Reid likely had help making the shoe bomb, describing it as "extraordinarily professional." (Full story)

• An F-16C fighter jet on a routine training mission for the New Jersey Air National Guard crashed Thursday in Ocean City, law enforcement and military officials said. The pilot, identified as Robert McNally by a family friend, ejected safely and was later treated for minor injuries, according to a spokesman for the Guard's 177th Fighter Wing. (Full story)

• The leaders of seven East African countries met Thursday to discuss regional conflicts and frame a joint initiative against terrorism. Leaders of Somalia and Sudan, both known as former havens for followers of Osama bin Laden, are attending the two-day conference in Khartoum, Sudan. (Full story)

• About 80 Italian soldiers will join the multinational security force patrolling Kabul on Saturday. Several hundred Italian troops will eventually take part in the mission.

• President Bush signed a $318 billion defense appropriation bill into law Thursday, saying the legislation marked a "first step" toward keeping "our commitment to our country" to wipe out terrorism throughout the world and maintain domestic security. (Full story)

• Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, in Utah for a look at preparations for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, declared Thursday that Salt Lake City "may be one of the most secure places in the world." Ridge also said that American security efforts must and will be prepared for what may appear to be isolated incidents originating inside the country. (Full story)

• The Federal Aviation Administration, in the wake of a Florida teen-ager's suicidal crash into a Florida skyscraper last weekend, issued new security suggestions for flight schools and airfields. (Full story)

• The chairman of Afghanistan's interim government, Hamid Karzai, defended the release of seven top Taliban government officials who surrendered in Kandahar this week. Karzai told CNN that four or five of the officials were not on a list of people the United States wanted detained and another was a case of mistaken identity. Karzai said all agreed to surrender weapons on the condition they not be arrested. (Full story)

• Six more victims of the September 11 World Trade Center attacks were confirmed dead Thursday, bringing that number to 632, the Office of Emergency Management said. The estimate of the number of dead remains at 2,893, including 309 people listed as missing with no death certificates issued and 1,965 others for whom death certificates have been issued but whose remains have not yet been identified.




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