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Marred US Operation in Afghanistan May Have Targeted Mullah Omar - 2002-07-10


U.S. defense officials believe fugitive Taleban leader Mullah Mohamed Omar may have been sheltering in the central Afghanistan area where a recent coalition operation was marred by civilian casualties.

Pentagon sources will not go so far as to say the capture of Mullah Omar was the main objective of the operation in Uruzgan province which was marred by the deaths of civilians in a U.S. air-strike.

But these sources are now confirming that they believed the fugitive Taleban leader could have been in hiding in the remote area north of Kandahar, an area where he was raised and which has long been considered pro-Taleban.

The operation, involving 300-400 U.S., coalition and Afghan forces, led to the capture of at least five individuals. For the moment, Pentagon officials have not formally identified them.

But Marine Lieutenant General Gregory Newbold said intelligence information suggested there were important personalities in Uruzgan.

"There was sufficient intelligence to believe that there were some what we would call high-value individuals that might be operating in the area. That's a very important part of our mission, stated from our first action in Afghanistan," he explained.

General Newbold also made clear in a briefing this week the individuals were being sought in an area where coalition forces on the ground and in the air encountered frequent armed resistance.

"We had people on the ground who over the course of actually several weeks had been operating in the area and had been engaged on the ground and in the air by local forces...This is an area of enormous sympathy for the Taleban and al-Qaida," he noted.

Details of the operation have only leaked out in the wake of a controversial incident in which Afghan officials say U.S. aircraft attacked a wedding party in a village in the area, killing close to 50 people and wounding more than 100 others.

The incident is under investigation. But U.S. military authorities have said the air attack was prompted by anti-aircraft fire aimed at American planes.

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