- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 9, 2002

U.S. troops are investigating whether a remotely piloted bomber killed a senior al Qaeda leader during a strike in Afghanistan, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said yesterday.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban's foreign minister yesterday turned himself in to Afghan officials, who then took him to a U.S. military base, the Associated Press reported.

Mullah Abdul Wakil Muttawakil surrendered in Kandahar, U.S. officials said, making him the highest-ranking official of the ousted Taliban regime to do so.

U.S. authorities were questioning Mullah Muttawakil, looking to gain valuable information, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Omar Samad, a spokesman for the Afghan Foreign Ministry, said he could not confirm the surrender but said the interim Afghan government had been expecting Taliban officials to give themselves up.

Meanwhile, more than 50 soldiers were dispatched yesterday in helicopters to the site of Monday's bombing near the Pakistani border, said Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Pentagon's senior general.

"They're aware that there may not be a lot of evidence," Gen. Myers said.

Before Central Command ordered the strike, U.S. intelligence observed a tall man wearing Arab clothes who was accompanied by security guards, a U.S. official said .

"The other people in the area all paid great deference to him and came up to him," the official said.

Osama Bin Laden is 6 feet 4 inches tall. Several other al Qaeda leaders are similar in stature.

Wazir Khan, a brother of regional warlord Bacha Khan, told the Associated Press that seven persons were killed in the attack. Mr. Khan said bin Laden was not among the dead.

Gen. Myers and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in a Pentagon briefing said they did not know whether bin Laden was among those targeted in the bombing strike.

"The strike was on some individuals. Who, is to be determined," Gen. Myers said. "That's what they're gathering the intelligence on."

U.S. military personnel were delayed from searching the area because bad weather prevented helicopters from getting to the site. Gen. Myers said the soldiers would arrive late last night and begin their investigation at sunrise.

The site near Zawir Kili was bombed by a U.S. Hellfire missile deployed on a Predator drone aircraft Monday.

Gen. Myers said the target was picked "over a period of hours" based on "several sources of intelligence."

"There were lots of discussions among Central Command and other folks on the target, and it was concluded that it was a valid target, and it was struck," Gen. Myers said.

The general said he did not know whether the military team investigating the bombing site included forensic experts who could identify bodies.

Evidence collected may have to be transported to U.S. bases for further investigation, he said.

Meanwhile, 28 more prisoners from Afghanistan were moved to Guantanamo Bay on Thursday. The new detainees bring to 186 the total number of prisoners in Cuba. An additional 271 are being held in Afghanistan.

Some of the prisoners in Cuba are believed to know about planned al Qaeda terrorist attacks and are being interrogated, Gen. Myers said.

The Pentagon for the first time has disclosed the nationalities of the prisoners at the base in Guantanamo. The group includes 50 Saudis, about 30 Yemenis, about 25 Pakistanis, eight Algerians, three Britons and small numbers from Egypt, Australia, France, Russia, Belgium, Sweden and other countries, a senior defense official told Associated Press.

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