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Monday, 15 October, 2001, 11:05 GMT 12:05 UK
US military 'missed' Taleban leader
RQ-1 Predator spy plane
The Predator spy plane is operated by 55 people
The US military had Taleban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar in its sights on the first night of the airstrikes on Afghanistan, a US magazine has reported.

The Pentagon has refused to comment on the article in the 22 October issue of the New Yorker magazine.

It says that an unmanned reconnaissance aircraft had identified Mullah Omar in a convoy of vehicles fleeing the capital Kabul.

Mullah Mohammed Omar
A rare photograph of the notoriously elusive Mullah Omar
But the Predator plane could not fire its anti-tank missiles because it did not have the necessary authorisation, the report says.

The article - by noted investigative reporter Seymour Hersh - quotes unnamed intelligence officials saying the failure to attack left US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld "kicking a lot of glass and breaking doors".

Legal concerns

It says the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which controls the aircraft, required authorisation to fire from US Central Command headquarters in Florida, but an attack was vetoed because of legal concerns.

The report also says that a building sheltering the Taleban spiritual leader was bombed by the US military - but Mullah Omar had already left.

A spokeswoman for the Pentagon and spokesmen for Central Command and the CIA all refused to comment.

The only details of targets on the first night that have been revealed by US officials are that two male relatives of Mullah Omar were killed in the raids on Kandahar.

Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said that the defence secretary's reported reaction to the failure to hit Mullah Omar was "completely unlike Secretary Rumsfeld's behaviour".

See also:

14 Oct 01 | Americas
Military campaign: One week on
18 Sep 01 | South Asia
Profile: Mullah Mohammed Omar
07 Oct 01 | Americas
Guide to military strength
24 Sep 01 | Americas
Predator spy plane
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