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Afghanistan Air Strike Update (Jan. 11)

WASHINGTON --- U.S. and coalition forces continued to hammer the Al Qaeda's Zawar Kili site in eastern Afghanistan, Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clarke said Jan. 10.

The complex, hit hard in the past week, is "more extensive" than first thought. Joint Staff and U.S. Central Command officials said there is much Al Qaeda war materiel in the area. There were two air strikes on the complex Jan. 9.

The complex was an Al Qaeda command and control, storage and training base. U.S. Central Command officials said the area is under "intense scrutiny." Officials struck the area at the end of December because they saw evidence that Al Qaeda members were attempting to regroup at the complex.

Coalition forces have ended their missions in the Tora Bora cave and tunnel complex northeast of Zawar Kili, CENTCOM officials reported. U.S. personnel helped in intelligence gathering, direct action missions, detainee captures, forensic identifications and munitions and equipment collection and demolition, CENTCOM officials said. The cave system was made up of eight main caves with extensive branches throughout the area.

Clarke said 371 Al Qaeda and Taliban detainees are under U.S. control. U.S. officials are readying to move some of the detainees to the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. "They are being treated humanely in accordance with the Geneva Convention," she said.

DoD also announced the names of seven Marines who died Jan. 9 when their KC-130/R refueling aircraft crashed into a mountainside in Pakistan. The plane at the time was attempting to land at the Forward Operating Base at Shamsi, Pakistan.

The seven were Capt. Matthew W. Bancroft, 29, of Shasta, Calif.; Capt. Daniel G. McCollum, 29, of Richland, S.C.; Gunnery Sgt. Stephen L. Bryson, 35, of Montgomery, Ala.; Staff Sgt. Scott N. Germosen, 37, of Queens, N.Y.; Sgt. Nathan P. Hays, 21, of Lincoln, Wash.; Sgt. Jeannette L. Winters, 25, of Du Page, Ill.; and Lance Cpl. Bryan P. Bertrand, 23, of Coos, Ore.

Clarke said a mortuary team is en route to the area. Officials in theater will be augmented by others from the 3rd Marine Air Wing as the investigation into the cause of the crash continues.

"Nothing has been ruled out," Clarke said. She said there is no indication the crash was caused by hostile fire, "but there is no indication of the cause of the crash."

The Marines were members of Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352. The squadron is attached to Combined Task Force 58, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. The crew was home-based at the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif.

"It's another sign of just what an incredibly risky business these people are in," Clarke said. "Just getting up and going to their jobs every single day is extraordinarily dangerous. They deal with dangerous equipment, in unusual and dangerous circumstances. There's a huge sense of gratitude on the part of people like us, that they are willing to do it."


Zawar Kili Still Focus Of Afghan Fighting; Marine Crash Victims Named