U.S. missile strike targeted top AQ leader -- even though kids were present

Something must be up because suddenly it’s raining rockets in Afghanistan and the Pakistani tribal areas. The attack that killed the kids happened on Sunday; this morning a U.S. drone cashiered a jihadi training camp in Waziristan, killing 32. No word of any leadership targets involved in the latter but NBC leads tonight with a scoop about the former. Contrary to what military spokesmen have said, U.S. intel did know the kids were there when they ordered the strike. But they had a fish on the hook big enough that they couldn’t afford to throw him back.

They may have gotten him, too.

U.S. special operations forces were targeting the leader of al-Qaida in Afghanistan — one of the organization’s top commanders — when they launched an attack against a compound that killed seven children Sunday in Paktika province of eastern Afghanistan, U.S. officials tell NBC News.

According to several officials, and contrary to previous statements, the U.S. military knew there were children at the compound but considered the target of such high value it was worth the risk of potential collateral damage.

Those same officials tell NBC News the target of Sunday’s attack was Abu Laith al Libi, the al-Qaida commander in Afghanistan and a top lieutenant of Osama bin Laden. The sources report that although six sets of remains besides those of the seven children were recovered, it’s not clear whether Abu Laith is among those killed…

Military officials say special operations forces relied on a relatively new weapons system to carry out the attack — High Mobility Artillery Rockets, or HIMARS. The rockets are fired high into the atmosphere from launchers on the ground. Then, on the way down, they are guided to the target by either GPS or lasers. The officials say as many of five of these HIMARS were used in the attack on the compound. It was the same weapons system used recently in the killing of Mullah Dadullah, the Taliban’s military commander…

Military officials told NBC News the al-Qaida leader was considered such a high-value target it was worth the risk that some children might become casualties of the attack.

Libi has been propagandizing since at least 2002, but his profile has risen in the past few months. He appeared in a video in April railing at Iraqi Shiites for conspiring with Americans in Iraq, then appeared in another one a few weeks ago to eulogize Mullah Dadullah, a.k.a. the Taliban Zarqawi. Allegedly he’s one of the top AQ field commanders in Afghanistan, although no one seems to be sure how much of a role he really plays. He was credited with planning the failed suicide bomb attack on Cheney during his visit to Bagram but it’s doubtful that anyone from AQ knew about that or could have acted so quickly even if they had.

I wonder why the sudden splurge in missile attacks, though. Probably a coincidence, but maybe they’re taking that suicide bomber “graduation” video more seriously than I thought.

Update: “We have jumped the shark,” declares a fragile soul at DU.

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