WASHINGTON — About 1,500 soldiers will head to the U.S. Navy base in Cuba to prepare for the arrival of al-Qaida and Taliban prisoners.
About 1,000 troops — many of them military police — from bases all over the United States have received orders to go to the Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the prisoners will be held under maximum security, Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said today. Another 500 U.S. troops will go to the base in the coming weeks.
"This is our part and we are going down to take care of business," said Col. Terry Carrico, commander of the 89th Military Police Brigade at Fort Hood, Texas, just before boarding a plane to Cuba to prepare for the troops’ arrival.
Some of the troops are being sent to transport the prisoners from Asia to the island, officials said.
Others will quickly prepare a section of the base to hold an initial first group of fewer than 100 prisoners, though up to 2,000 prisoners eventually may be housed there, Davis said. Gen. Tommy Franks, the head of the military campaign in Afghanistan, said Friday that some prisoners are to arrive at Guantanamo within 10 days.
Many of the troops will be Army military police from Fort Hood. Military personnel are also being sent from Fort Campbell, Ky., Camp Lejeune, N.C., and Norfolk Naval Station, Va., among other bases, Davis said. The prison operation will be commanded by Marine Brig. Gen. Michael R. Lehnert from Camp Lejeune.
The U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo predates the communist revolution on the island nation. It is well-defended and would offer few avenues of escape for prisoners. Fidel Castro’s government says the base should have been closed and returned to Cuban control decades ago.
More than 300 suspected Taliban or al-Qaida members were in U.S. custody this weekend, military officials have said. Soldiers were guarding 275 prisoners at the base in Kandahar, 21 at Bagram air base north of Kabul, and one in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.
Another nine prisoners, including American Taliban John Walker Lindh, are being held on the USS Bataan in the Arabian Sea. Afghan and Pakistani authorities are holding thousands more prisoners captured during the fighting.
In Cuba, the prisoners will be held in "maximum security" conditions, the Pentagon said, and will be treated in accordance with international standards for military prisoners and have access to Red Cross and other nongovernmental organization personnel.
The military is planning tight security in light of the rioting by al-Qaida prisoners at Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan, that left hundreds dead, including CIA officer Johnny "Mike" Spann, Davis said.
"We are cognizant of the incident that took place in Mazar-e-Sharif," he said. "Many of these people have demonstrated their determination to kill others, kill themselves or escape."
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