- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 13, 2002

Intelligence analysts think the United States killed one of al Qaeda's top finance directors in the Feb. 4 Predator strike on a group of three suspicious figures in the Zawar Kili terrorist camp in Afghanistan, a military source says.
Despite media reports that three innocent civilians were killed by the CIA-operated Predator drone, two officials said in interviews they are convinced that al Qaeda terrorists were targeted.
A second senior U.S. official said last night that evidence is mounting that a senior al Qaeda member was killed in the attack. But he cautioned that the identity might not be confirmed by examination of human remains found at the scene by U.S. soldiers.
"We may never identify these remains," said the second official, who asked not to be named. "We only have small bits of remains, and unless you've got something to compare it to, you never know."
This source said it is "too hard" to obtain DNA samples from relatives. Other intelligence methods, however, may eventually determine who died in the attack by a missile fired from a remote-controlled aircraft.
The Predator spy plane had tracked the group for a number of hours as they and others moved around the Zawar Kili terror camp, one of Osama bin Laden's largest.
The drone sent back video images that captured the targets trying to "camouflage their movements," the military source said. Said the U.S. official: "People were observed in the camp doing things we associate with al Qaeda, making security arrangements and things like that."
When the CIA and U.S. Central Command concurred the three men were a legitimate target, a CIA team was authorized to fire the Hellfire missile and steer it to the targets, who appeared to be hiding under a tree.
"There were pretty classic intelligence indications," said a senior intelligence official. "We felt pretty confident it was the man himself, his deputy or the finance guy."
This official later said the CIA had ruled out that it killed "the man himself" Osama bin Laden because it has not detected any communications traffic reporting the terror leader's death. The source said some analysts calculate that an al Qaeda finance director was killed based on his physical characteristics and "other intelligence."
"We watched for several hours," this source said. "There were significant efforts to camouflage their movements."
The official said 80 percent of the intelligence on the group came from the Predator's video images. He said U.S. special-operations troops also played a role in confirming that the group was al Qaeda.
The official said one of the three men was dressed in Arab clothing bin Laden and his top lieutenants are Arabs and was shown deference by those around him.
The source declined to identify the al Qaeda finance director who may have been hit. Several al Qaeda members who specialize in finance remain at large, including Abdul Rahim Riyadh and Ahmad Said al Kadr.
The CIA has used Predator drones throughout the war to kill Taliban and al Qaeda guerrillas. The plane, developed by the Air Force, actually caught bin Laden himself on videotape as he walked among trainees in a terror camp last summer.
But at that time, technicians had not yet conquered the engineering challenges of affixing missiles to the Predator, which had been developed as an unarmed surveillance drone. By the time the plane was matched with the video-guided Hellfire missile, bin Laden had disappeared and was not seen again before he orchestrated the September 11 attacks.
The drone flies at an altitude beyond what its targets can usually see. Likewise, the targets are unable to hear the supersonic Hellfire until the missile is seconds away.
Intelligence sources acknowledged that the CIA's belief that the agency hit an appropriate target was rattled somewhat, after local Afghans were quoted in media reports as saying three peasant scavengers not al Qaeda members were killed.
But the U.S. senior military official said, "I would be absolutely blown away if that was a true statement based on what I know. If that's true, those peasants were awfully well-traveled. No one was observed [via the Predator] picking up any scrap metal."
One U.S. official suggested the surviving Afghan peasants could be seeking U.S. compensation. One administration source said the civilians might have died earlier, in battle or by stepping on a mine as they looked for scrap metal.
This official said the area is a hotbed of Taliban and al Qaeda supporters who have motive to discredit the U.S. military. "These people lie all the time," he said.
Central Command dispatched 50 helicopter-borne Army troops to the snowy site 11,000 feet above sea level. They cordoned off the area, interviewed locals, found the exact missile point of impact and collected human remains, including bits of bones and flesh.
The Pentagon says the soldiers found credit-card applications, airline schedules, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition, rifles, and a case for a hand-held tactical radio all the trappings of a terror group.
The CIA has declined to comment on the Feb. 4 strike, but the Pentagon has delivered a strong defense of the operation.
"There are no initial indications that these were innocent locals," Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem told reporters at the Pentagon on Monday. "I base that on the facts that this team, in addition to just looking at the site where the strike occurred, also did some exploration in the surrounding area, to include some caves, a nearby village, and talking to locals. So I think that that sort of puts us in a comfort zone. These were not innocents."
Yesterday, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld declined to personally vouch for the target's appropriateness. "There is no change in opinion on the part of the people who were involved in the process," he told reporters at a press conference.
The CIA can operate the Predator by remote control from stations thousands of miles from Afghanistan, including Central Command in Tampa, Fla., the Pentagon, and CIA headquarters in Northern Virginia.
Mr. Rumsfeld said decisions to fire the Predator's Hellfire missiles are some of the few war operations the CIA may execute without approval from Central Command, whose head, Army Gen. Tommy Franks, is the war's overall commander. But officials said that in the Feb. 4 attack, Central Command concurred.
"They use human intelligence from the ground," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "They observe a variety of things from the ground and the air, and they connect those things, and then they make judgments. And they have, on a number of occasions, been successful in doing exactly that which they intended to do."
In other war developments yesterday:
Top anti-Taliban officials disputed assertions by a few detained fighters that they were beaten by U.S. troops while in custody in Kandahar.
"That's wrong; that's absolutely wrong. They are bluffing," Reuters quoted Khalid Pashtun, a senior aide to the Kandahar governor, as saying. "It's not true."
The charges stem from the Jan. 24 special-operations raid on a compoud north of Kandahar the United States believed housed enemy forces. Central Command is investigating whether its forces made a mistake in an attack that killed 15 fighters and resulted in the capture of 27 others, a few of whom say they were beaten by the Americans. Those 27, some of whom U.S. officials labeled as criminals, were turned over to the new Afghan government.
Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, said yesterday the investigation to date shows the captives were not beaten. "All detainees were medically screened upon arrival in Kandahar, and there were no issues of beatings or kickings or anything of that sort," Gen. Myers said.
The Associated Press quoted Mr. Pashtun as saying Afghan authorities are negotiating the surrender of 15 Taliban leaders, possibly including some Cabinet members.
The most senior Taliban member in custody, former Foreign Minister Mullah Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, turned himself in Friday and is being questioned by U.S. officials in Kandahar. Supreme Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar remains on the run.


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