U.S. Hits Convoy of Suspected Taliban Leaders

U.S. warplanes on Friday attacked a convoy that the Pentagon said was carrying Taliban or Al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan. But an Afghan official said the trucks were bringing tribal leaders loyal to the new government to the capital.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said many were killed in the strike. The Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press news agency reported 65 dead.

AC-130 gunships and fighter aircraft attacked the convoy of 10-12 trucks near Khost in eastern Afghanistan, Gen. Peter Pace told reporters in Washington. He said they also hit a compound with command-and-control facilities from which the trucks departed.

"The intelligence that we gathered at the time indicated to us that this was in fact leadership, and we struck the leadership," said Pace, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"It was a large convoy, and there were a lot of people killed and a lot of vehicles damaged or destroyed," Rumsfeld said.

But an Afghan official in Kabul said the convoy was carrying members of the shura — or tribal council — for Paktia province, invited to the capital to attend the inauguration of Afghanistan's interim government on Saturday.

The official, who was involved in inauguration preparations and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the trucks took a secondary road because loyalists of Jalaluddin Haqqani, a Taliban official and close ally of Al Qaeda, wanted to stop them from getting to Kabul.

The Afghan Islamic Press quoted a local leader, Sayed Yaqeen, saying at least 65 people were killed in the strike. Yaqeen also said the convoy was carrying guests for Saturday's ceremony.

There was no immediate response from Pentagon officials to the reports.

Taliban training camps and two Al Qaeda camps were known to be located in Khost, in eastern Paktia province. In 1998 the United States fired Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Al Qaeda camps there in retaliation for the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, blamed on Usama bin Laden's terror network.