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U.S. tries to identify target of airstrike

An Air Force Predator aerial vehicle carries a Hellfire missile in an exercise.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A military investigative team has found "forensic evidence" that could determine whether a recent U.S. airstrike in Afghanistan killed top al Qaeda officials, the U.S. Central Command said Sunday.

About 50 U.S. soldiers and forensics experts have been searching the scene in Zawar Kili, situated in a remote part of southeastern Afghanistan, where an armed CIA drone scored a direct hit Monday on a group suspected to be top al Qaeda officials.

The Monday attack has drawn widespread speculation that bin Laden might have been among those in the group, since the men on the ground were described as wearing white robes and one of them was tall, as is bin Laden.

Asked at a briefing last week whether evidence suggested the man suspected of orchestrating the September 11 attacks was among those killed, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, "We just simply have no idea" -- but he would not rule out the possibility.

Capt. Robert Riggle, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command, said Sunday the search teams have recovered "forensic evidence that can be useful" in determining an identity.

U.S. sources said there was still no indication that bin Laden was there -- but they simply do not know.

U.S. military officials tell CNN the team is remaining at the site Sunday and will continue to work collecting evidence. The team has made its first report, saying it has found evidence of the U.S. missile strike but that most pieces of the material found are considered to be small.

The biological forensic material will have to be tested because none of it is "recognizable." The team says it does not want to come to a conclusion until the material is tested by specialists, adding there will be a period of extensive testing, according to the military officials.

So far, the team has not requested any additional equipment be brought in to the area, indicating the material found is not unexpected as the result of such a strike.

Other sources said the United States has been assured that if needed it would be able to obtain DNA samples -- presumably from the bin Laden family -- for comparison with forensic evidence.

The CIA has been flying Predator drones equipped with precision-guided missiles on reconnaissance missions in Afghanistan. The unmanned aerial vehicles are prepared to attack targets if instructed.




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