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US Bombs Suspected al-Qaida Compound

AFGHANISTAN (voa) – U.S. warplanes have bombed a compound in eastern Afghanistan where the Pentagon says members of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network had gathered.

U.S. defense officials say the planes dropped about 100 bombs in the raid late Thursday near the town of Khowst. An AC-130 gunship also took part in the attack. It was not clear how many al-Qaida members may have been killed.

U.S. General Richard Myers told reporters in Washington Thursday that U.S. intelligence had detected what he called “activity” at the compound. NBC television quotes U.S. officials as saying a reconaissance drone had spotted a convoy accompanied by the same kind of security that usually surrounds Mr. bin Laden.

Meanwhile, there are conflicting reports on the whereabouts of Taleban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar. Afghanistan’s minister for reconstruction, Mohammed Amin Farhang, told German television late Thursday the fugitive cleric may have already been arrested. The minister said he had heard Mullah Omar was arrested but did not know anything more.

Afghan intelligence officials said earlier that Mullah Omar was holed up with 1,500 Taleban fighters near the town of Baghran, and that negotiations were under way for his surrender.

But both Pentagon and Afghan military officials say they are skeptical the Taleban leader is actually in the area or is a subject of the negotiations. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Thursday that he has no details on the negotiations. He said the United States opposes any negotiations that would set Mullah Omar or other top Taleban leaders free.

In related developments, U.S. officials confirm that Afghanistan’s interim leader Hamid Karzai is set to visit Washington in February at the invitation of President Bush. No firm date for the visit has been set.

Also, U.S. forces in Afghanistan have now taken nearly 250 Taleban and al-Qaida fighters into custody. Mr. Rumsfeld says some will be transferred to a high-security detention center now under construction at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

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