Mideast edition, Thursday, June 21, 2007

ARLINGTON, Va. — A U.S. military commander in Afghanistan said Wednesday that coalition officials did not know that children were present before a compound was bombed in eastern Paktika province Sunday.

“That’s absolutely not the case,” Col. Martin Schweitzer, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team, which is deployed to east Afghanistan, told Pentagon reporters Wednesday.

Speaking via satellite from his headquarters at Forward Operating Base Aned in Paktika province, Schweitzer, commander of “Task Force Fury,” said U.S. military commanders believed the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, Abu Laith al-Libi, might have been present in the compound, which included a mosque and an Islamic school.

Commanders are not sure whether al-Libi was, in fact, present, or killed during the raid.

“We do not have confirmation who was killed during that particular attack at this time,” Schweitzer told Pentagon reporters during a press briefing. “As soon as we can confirm whether it was or wasn’t, I’m confident the community at large will know.”

However, the bombing raid did result in the deaths of seven boys ages 10 to 16, Akram Akhpelwak, governor of Paktika province, told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Reports that suggest U.S. military commanders knew the children were in the compound, but decided that the chance to kill al-Libi was too important to pass up, are incorrect, Schweitzer said.

“I can guarantee you personally, as well as that we coordinated with the various formations, that there was an assessment there were no children on that particular target,” he said.

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