Breaking: U.S. forces attack senior AQ leader's hideout in Afghanistan? Update: More details

I use the term “breaking” loosely because the attack’s reportedly been going on for two days, but it just hit the wire at the Blotter:

According to eye witnesses and local reporters in Kunar province, Coalition forces launched a fierce attack on a small enclave in the village of Mandaghel on Friday afternoon. Warplanes pounded the positions and ground troops, including US special forces and Afghan National Army soldiers, moved in shortly afterwards. The assault appeared to encounter stiff resistance from militants inside the compound. Heavy artillery and gunfire could be heard for hours, according to local witnesses. A handful of civilians were wounded in the strike. The area now appears to be under coalition control but is still sealed off.

US officials declined to name the target of declined to identify who the operation was aimed against, but did indicate that it was a “High Value Target” (HVT) Sources would not rule out that the al Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden himself was the target. Afghan officials said the target could be another senior ranking al Qaeda leader.

Have those two big Taliban birds already sung? The arrest of Mullah Akhund, the group’s number three, wasn’t announced until Thursday afternoon, but according to another Blotter article he was taken into custody “only hours” after Cheney left Pakistan for Afghanistan on Monday. So conceivably, they’ve been working him over for days. Which leads to two questions: (1) why would his arrest have been announced publicly before the U.S. had a chance to act the intelligence he’s (presumably) giving them, and (2) wouldn’t all senior AQ leaders have gone to ground immediately after word of the arrest got out, knowing that the U.S. could soon have a bead on them?

Update: This is either a major scoop or a complete bust because there’s nothing about it anywhere else on Google News that I can see. NBC has, however, confirmed with the Taliban that the two commanders have been arrested. And contrary to prior reports, they weren’t arrested together; one was arrested “more than a week ago” (with an accomplice) and gave up the other.

Pakistani security forces raided at the Gul Park Hotel in Quetta, the capital of Balouchistan province, and arrested Ameer Khan Haqani, commander of Zabul province in Afghanistan, and Jaland Abdullah Sarhadi of Kandahar.

Sarhadi had been detained for more than three years in Guantanamo Bay after the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. He was later released by U.S. authorities.

It is widely believed among the Taliban rank and file that it was the information extracted from these two men that led to the capture of Mullah Obaidullah [Akhund], the former Taliban defense minister and close confidante of Taliban leader Mullah Omar on Monday…

A Pakistani intelligence official in Quetta, speaking off the record to NBC News, said that Mullah Obaidullah has been taken to the capital, Islamabad where a team of U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials will assist in the interrogation process.

Update: I saw this last week when it was first posted but it had since completely slipped my mind. Thanks to John from Verum Serum for reminding me. U.S. officials sounded unusually certain about Osama’s whereabouts in that testimony. More cause for hope for today’s raid?

Update: Still more cause for hope from — reportedly, Osama bin in this area before.

The area is a hot zone of militant activity and rumors have whirled for the last three years that Bin Laden himself drifts between Kunar, Nuristan, the Bajaur tribal agency and nearby Chitral. All four areas contain extreme geographical challenges; severe winter weather, acute elevations (Chitral holds a 25,289 ft high mountain peak), and lacks in drivable roads. The latest news indicating a High Value Target’s presence in the Kunar area is not surprising as Pakistani and US forces have launched raids here in the past hunting for other ‘High Value Targets.’