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U.S. missile targets Afghan warlord

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 9, 2002

WASHINGTON -- The CIA, using a missile fired from an unmanned surveillance drone, tried Monday to kill an Afghan factional leader who has vowed to topple the current government, the New York Times reported Wednesday, citing Pentagon and administration officials.

U.S. officials said Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of a militant party called Hezb-i-Islami, was the target of a U.S. missile strike outside Kabul. The officials said he survived the attack, which was carried out by a Predator drone carrying Hellfire antitank missiles.

The attack was a new tactic in the war and evidence of the Bush administration's determination to support the country's new government. It was the first confirmed mission to kill a factional leader who was not officially part of the fallen Taliban government or al-Qaida terrorist network.

U.S. officials said they had gathered ample intelligence of Hekmatyar's efforts to bring down the current government led by Hamid Karzai, and to strike at U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan.

Details of the attack were sketchy. One official said Hekmatyar was traveling in a convoy at the time of the attack, while another said he was standing with a group of people.

In Afghanistan on Wednesday, the commander of the British task force, Brig. Roger Lane, said that the "war is all but won" against al-Qaida and the Taliban, and that offensive operations would be completed in a matter of weeks.

FBI chief discounts warning on Arab pilots

WASHINGTON -- An FBI memo from Phoenix warning that several Arabs were training at a U.S. aviation school wouldn't have led officials to the Sept. 11 hijackers even if they had followed up the warning with more vigor, FBI director Robert Mueller said Wednesday.

"Did we discern from that that there was a plot that would have led us to the Sept. 11 (attackers)? No," Mueller told the Senate Judiciary Committee. "Could we have? I rather doubt it. But should we have done more in regard to the Phoenix (memo)? Yes."

In July an FBI agent in Arizona alerted Washington that several Arabs were suspiciously training at a U.S. aviation school and urged that agents contact other schools nationwide where Middle Easterners might be studying.

Mueller said it was unlikely that the FBI could have investigated all 2,000 aviation academies and their 20,000 students between July and September. "It was perceived that this would be a monumental undertaking without any specificity as to particular persons," he said.

None of the people being investigated in Arizona were involved in the Sept. 11 attack, Mueller said, although he acknowledged that one or two might have had connections to terror organizations.

Congress still getting months-old letters

WASHINGTON -- Lawmakers still receiving Christmas mail confronted Postal Service officials who insisted Wednesday that Capitol Hill delivery is back to normal after last fall's anthrax scare.

"We're getting Christmas cards every other day in our office," Rep. John T. Doolittle, R-Calif., told postal officials at a House Administration Committee hearing.

Rep. Jim Davis, D-Tampa, held up two letters with handwritten addresses: "This is mail that just came in. It's dated in December."

Sylvester Black, manager of capital metro operations for the Postal Service, acknowledged it takes slightly longer to deliver mail because of new safety procedures. But he said lawmakers should not be getting months-old mail.

"By the first week of February, the backlog had been eliminated," he said. "We are no longer storing any mail for a government agency."

Committee Chairman Bob Ney, R-Ohio, was incredulous. Holding up two letters -- one dated Feb. 5 and the other Dec. 12 -- he said there has to be a backlog somewhere in the system.

Black said any late mail turning up now probably was incorrectly addressed or inadvertently mixed in with newspapers and magazines, which have a lower priority.

Government to pay for N.Y. apartment cleanups

NEW YORK -- The government has reversed course and agreed to pay to clean the apartments of downtown residents worried about dust from the World Trade Center collapse.

The city estimates there are 15,000 apartments in the area affected by dust from the twin towers. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., estimated that cleaning a typical apartment could cost as much as $7,000.

Environmentalists and tenants have expressed concerns that residents could be inhaling asbestos or other contaminants.

"Basically what we're doing is responding to residents," said Jane Kenny, regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency. "What we're saying is if there's anything lurking from when the towers came down, let's go in and get it."

No limit has been set on funding by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

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