SLUG: 2-286191 Afghan / al- Qaida (L-O)
TITLE= AFGHAN / AL-QAIDA (L ONLY)
BYLINE= ALEX BELIDA
INTRO: Pentagon officials say bad weather has so far prevented troops from assessing a remote site along Afghanistan's border with Pakistan where a U-S drone aircraft fired a missile at suspected al-Qaida terrorists. More from V-O-A Pentagon Correspondent Alex Belida.
TEXT: The "Predator" unmanned drone operated by the Central Intelligence Agency fired a "Hellfire" missile at the suspects on Monday. The aircraft spotted them near the Zawar Khili cave complex -- an al-Qaida facility that had been bombed extensively by American forces in the past.
General Tommy Franks, commander of the U-S operation in Afghanistan, made no mention of the missile attack during an appearance Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
But the General acknowledges there are still many terrorists at large who pose a continuing danger.
Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is among the terrorists still believed to be at large. Taleban leader Mullah Mohamed Omar also remains unaccounted for.
Meanwhile, in a separate, written submission to the Senate Intelligence Committee, another top Pentagon official has said the war effort so far has significantly damaged the al-Qaida network.
Vice Admiral Thomas Wilson, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, says several key leaders have been killed or arrested and others are on the run.
Admiral Wilson also says al-Qaida has suffered what he terms "a loss of prestige, institutional memory, contacts, and financial assets that will ultimately degrade its effectiveness."
He says even if Osama bin Ladin is alive, his ability to control a worldwide network has been diminished.
Nevertheless, Admiral Wilson concedes al-Qaida
has not been eliminated and retains the potential for reconstitution. He says many key officials and operatives remain and new personalities have already begun to emerge. Moreover, he says some operations that were already planned could be easily completed.
But he also says if Bin Ladin is killed or captured, there is no identified successor capable of rallying divergent nationalities, interests, and groups to create the kind of cohesion he fostered amongst Islamic extremists around the world. Admiral Wilson predicts that with Bin Ladin's removal, al-Qaida most likely will fragment under various lieutenants pursuing differing agendas with differing priorities. (Signed)
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