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Bad Weather Prevents Verification Of CIA Strike on al-Qaida Convoy

By Steve Vogel and Walter Pincus
THE WASHINGTON POST -- Bad weather is preventing U.S. military forces from surveying the site of a CIA-launched missile strike in eastern Afghanistan to verify whether a senior al-Qaida leader and other members of the terrorist network were killed in the attack, defense officials said Thursday.

Gen. Tommy Franks, head of the U.S. Central Command, said the Hellfire missile fired by an unmanned aircraft hit its intended target, but he said the weather in the mountainous area made it difficult to establish who was killed.

“Folks can’t get to it,” another defense official said. “It’s at 11,000 feet. It’s extremely difficult because of the weather.”

The attack Monday near Zhawar Kili, 30 miles southwest of the city of Khost, was launched by an armed Predator surveillance drone operated by the CIA. The Predator had come across and followed for two days a convoy of sport utility vehicles because U.S. intelligence officers determined they could be al-Qaida leaders, U.S. officials said.

On Monday, the vehicles were parked at a previously known al-Qaida camp and the officers noticed a group, protected by security personnel, in which other individuals were showing “a great deal of deference to a person much taller than the others,” according to a senior administration official.

With no U.S. fighter aircraft in the vicinity, the CIA officers fired a Hellfire missile at the group. The explosion apparently killed one or more of the individuals, the official said. Officials said they were not claiming the tall individual was Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaida leader whose whereabouts have been unknown since December. Bin Laden is believed to be between 6 feet 4 inches and 6 feet 6 inches tall. In Afghanistan, an Afghan leader told the Associated Press that the strike killed seven members of al-Qaida. Bin Laden “is not among those people,” said Wazir Khan, brother of warlord Bacha Khan, according to the AP.