Afghans say U.S. raid was mistake

Troops said to attack friendly forces, upset surrender of Taliban

February 01, 2002|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - A highly publicized U.S. Special Forces raid last week against two suspected Taliban compounds mistakenly attacked friendly Afghan forces, leading to the death and capture of anti-Taliban fighters, Afghan officials say.

"This is most probably someone giving the wrong information to the Americans," said Yusef Pashtun, the spokesman for Gul Argha Sharzai, governor of Kandahar province, where the Special Forces troops are based. Pashtun said the compounds attacked Jan. 24 were home to rival anti-Taliban groups, "and each group is calling the other al-Qaida."

A member of the Kandahar military council with close ties to the interim government of Hamid Karzai described the raid as "an intelligence mistake."

The raid also appears to have unraveled negotiations for the surrender of three senior Taliban officials, including the personal secretary to their supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar. The three were negotiating safe passage from Oruzgan to Kandahar province and had been told they would probably be turned over to U.S. forces after an investigation, Pashtun said.

A deal was "90 percent agreed upon" several days before the raid, he said. The officials were staying six miles away. The Kandahar military committee has not heard from them since the attack, he said.

The senior Taliban officials were identified as Tayab Agha, Omar's personal secretary; Mullah Moutasim, former finance minister; and Mullah Abas Akhund, the public health minister.

"They were almost coming here and this bombing happened," said Pashtun. "Since then, we have lost contact. They must have left the area."

Pashtun said he believes U.S. officials knew of the negotiations. Pentagon officials had no immediate comment.

Pentagon officials initially said last week that the raids had targeted al-Qaida compounds about 120 miles northeast of Kandahar. But Army troops found only Taliban, officials said. Fifteen Taliban fighters were killed in the raid, and 27 were captured and taken to the detention center at Kandahar Air Base. One Green Beret was wounded in the ankle.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Wednesday that Gen. Tommy R. Franks, commander of the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan, was investigating, but there was no indication that anti-Taliban forces were killed in the raid.

"We have no information like that. I'd wait for the investigation to complete," Rumsfeld said, adding that the situation in Afghanistan is "very, very complex" with "allegiances changing."

Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Wednesday that those inside the compound "started shooting first."

A Pentagon official suggested yesterday that some Afghan forces were denying Taliban links `'when it suits them" and said the raid destroyed "tons and tons of munitions."

Pashtun and the member of the Kandahar military committee said they were uncertain of the source of what they termed faulty intelligence. They said a U.S. officer at the air base assured them that such a mistake would not happen again. They would not name the officer. Army officials at Kandahar Air Base would not respond to questions about the meeting that the Afghans described.

Lt. Col. Jim Yonts, a spokesman for Franks' headquarters, the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla., declined to say whether an officer at the base met with local leaders.

"If there was anything that went wrong, it would be released after the investigation is complete," Yonts said.

The 27 detainees from the raid, including Abdul Rauf, a former anti-Taliban police chief who was recently appointed military commander by the governor of Oruzgan, are to be released, according to officials in Kandahar.

"This is a mistake. They are supposed to be released either today or tomorrow," said Khalid Pashtun, Yusef Pastun's brother and a top aide to the Kandahar governor. "They are upset."

But Yonts said the men captured in the raid would not be released soon. `They're still interrogating these guys," he said.

The member of the Kandahar military committee, who requested anonymity, told reporters yesterday that he had visited the area of the attack several days ago.

"I have talked to the people in Oruzgan and the families of the people who died," he said. "The people I know, seven or eight of them, are definitely not Taliban. They were people working with the governor of Oruzgan. The rest of these people, if they are Taliban, it should be investigated."

Jan Muhammed Khan, the governor of Oruzgan province, began his own investigation shortly after the raid, and Yusef Pashtun said results are expected in the coming days.

Pashtun said the allegations came to light several days after the bombing when two members of the Oruzgan military committee came to Kandahar to complain to Gul Argha Sharzai. They said U.S. forces had attacked a town hall and clinic, killing people loyal to Karzai and taking part in a disarmament campaign.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.