U.S. Probes Zawar Khili Attack

Talib Khan, an anti-Taliban soldier, stands as smoke from a U.S. bomb rises, nearby to caves thought to have been used by al-Qaida and Taliban in Zawar, some 200 kilometers (160 miles) south of Kabul in the Paktia province Sunday Jan. 13, 2002. U.S. jets have been pounding Zhawar for the last two weeks in an effort to stop al-Qaida and Taliban members from fleeing into neighboring Pakistan. AP

A Pentagon laboratory is creating a genetic profile from tissue specimens recovered from a site in Afghanistan where the CIA attacked what it believed were three al Qaeda terrorists.

U.S. officials do not believe the three victims included Osama bin Laden. But they are eager to establish the identities of the three, in part to counter claims that they were innocent Afghans.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon said it is gathering intelligence on pockets of hundreds of suspected al Qaeda and Taliban fighters regrouping near the city of Gardez in eastern Afghanistan.

Senior U.S. defense officials told reporters at a news briefing that no action had been taken yet, but left clear that it could be a focus of upcoming operations in Paktia Province in the mountainous area near Pakistan.

"We are seeing pockets of Al Qaeda and pockets of Taliban" around Paktia's capital of Gardez, said Air Force Lt. Gen. John Rosa, a senior operations officer on the U.S. military's Joint Staff.

"There are hundreds of folks....They're certainly not friendly," he told reporters.

Christopher Kelly, spokesman for the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, said Thursday the institute received a small amount of "biological material" on Feb. 15, 11 days after the CIA attack. He said the institute hopes to complete a genetic profile within two weeks.

The material was collected by U.S. authorities in the Zawar Khili area in eastern Afghanistan at a remote site where a CIA-operated Predator drone aircraft launched a Hellfire missile at the trio U.S. officials believe were al Qaeda leaders.

Afghans in the Zawar Khili area later told reporters the three men were innocents who had been searching for scrap metal.

U.S. officials said Wednesday the government is seeking DNA samples from relatives of bin Laden. The samples would be used to compare with DNA from remains recovered in Afghanistan.

U.S. officials say they don't know whether bin Laden is dead or alive. They doubt he was among the three killed in the Feb. 4 CIA attack, although the government is eager to identify the three.

Rumsfeld has said repeatedly in recent days that he does not know bin Laden's fate.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., told a Wichita broadcaster Thursday there has been some talk in intelligence circles that bin Laden was wounded.

"There's some indication he was wounded, but that's still very speculative," Roberts said after a closed meeting of the Senate Intelligence Committee. "Obviously, we're trying hard to tie that down."

Another official familiar with the intelligence committee discussion said the speculation stems from viewing videotapes of bin Laden. In a tape released publicly in late December, bin Laden appeared gaunt and did not use his left arm. He kept his hand hidden from view.

In other developments:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin struck a conciliatory tone Friday, saying he was not worried by possible U.S. military presence in neighboring Georgia. "There is no tragedy in the U.S. presence in Georgia," Putin said. "If this is possible in Central Asia, why not in Georgia?"

  • Pakistan intends to try the key suspect in the kidnap-slaying of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl first before possibly handing him over to the United States for prosecution, an Interior Ministry official said from Karachi.

  • The White House has approved a mission to send hundreds of U.S. troops to Yemen to train and advise Yemeni forces hunting remnants of the al Qaeda network, the Wall Street Journal reported. The paper cited a senior military official as saying the mission would be similar to the U.S. military effort in the Philippines, where more than 600 soldiers are involved.
    • Lloyd Vries

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