Only few al-Qaida fled to Pakistan, U.S. general says

Hundreds of foes killed in mountains

friendly fire studied in soldier's death

March 30, 2002|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The commander of the military campaign in Afghanistan said yesterday that hundreds of al-Qaida terrorists were killed in Operation Anaconda earlier this month in the mountains near Gardez but that small numbers likely fled into Pakistan.

The commander, Gen. Tommy R. Franks, disputed news reports that up to 5,000 al-Qaida fighters had escaped and were assembling in Pakistan or that officials there were not cooperating enough with the United States.

"There are not thousands of al-Qaida regrouping someplace, whether in Pakistan or anyplace else," Franks said at the Pentagon. "But small numbers, to be sure."

At the same time, Franks said he was looking into the possibility that the first U.S. soldier killed in the two-week-long Anaconda operation, Army Chief Warrant Officer Stanley L. Harriman, 34, of Wade, N.C., might have been the victim of "friendly fire" from an American AC-130 gunship rather than of a mortar attack from al-Qaida forces, as first suspected.

The Army general said the gunship was firing at a convoy at the same time that U.S. and Afghan forces in a convoy said they were coming under fire March 2.

"The coincidence of the timing of the AC-130 strike and the strike on that convoy," Franks said, "were, in my view, sufficient to cause me to ask the question."

Franks said he had asked for an investigation into the matter.

Estimates of the number of al-Qaida forces killed in the Anaconda campaign range from 350 by Afghan officials to 700 by Maj. Gen. Franklin "Buster" Hagenbeck, the ground commander, though local Afghans and journalists have reported no evidence that hundreds were killed. Until now, Pentagon officials have been reluctant to discuss numbers, leading to speculation that hundreds of enemy forces might have escaped from a campaign that the United States has dubbed a success.

"There were hundreds killed in this operation," Franks said. And he said the location of U.S. and Afghan soldiers on the battlefield would have made it "infeasible to expect that large numbers of enemy forces [escaped] this battlefield and moved in any direction."

While U.S. and allied forces continue to hunt for pockets of al-Qaida and Taliban fighters, Franks said he saw no need to send U.S. forces into Pakistan or even to start joint operations with Pakistani troops in the northwest part of the country, where an uncertain number of al-Qaida forces are said to be.

Instead, he said, the United States and Pakistan are coordinating the activities of their troops on each side of the border.

"And the coordination and cooperation has been OK, but it continues to improve," he said. "If there comes a point in time where we perceive the need to be able to move American forces, then we probably would have that discussion."

Also yesterday, Franks released an update on 10 possible "friendly fire" incidents dating to October, when the military campaign in Afghanistan began, including the convoy attack in which Harriman was killed.

The four-page report notes that the incidents were the only ones to warrant a review out of the 36,564 sorties flown and 21,737 weapons dropped.

Among the incidents was an attack Dec. 5 by a B-52 that killed three Army Green Berets and seven Afghan fighters. The report said the attack was under review. But Pentagon officials have said the bomb was dropped on the friendly forces after a U.S. soldier was forced to change the battery on his hand-held target locator.

After the battery was replaced, confusion about which coordinates were the sender's and which were the enemy's led the B-52 crew to mistakenly drop a 2,000-pound bomb on the U.S. forces.

Franks disputed a news report that nearly four times as many Afghan allies died in that attack - about 25 - than the Pentagon had reported.

"I'll stay with the number of Afghans that I have had before because I have talked with Karzai about this," he said, referring to Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan's interim leader. "He has not come back and said, `Well, the number is something different.'"

In addition, the report says a friendly fire incident that took place Jan. 23 north of the southern city of Kandahar is closed. Sixteen Afghans were killed, and 27 were arrested. The Pentagon said there was no mistake, though it acknowledged several weeks later that none of those killed or arrested were al-Qaida or Taliban forces but instead were provincial government troops.

Some local Afghan officials at the time said that rival warlords, who were "each calling each other al-Qaida," had duped the United States. Yesterday's report said there "were no systemic errors in the targeting process, mission planning or mission execution."

Asked how there could be no mistakes from a mission that was based on false intelligence reports that al-Qaida or Taliban forces were at the compounds, Franks said the "imperfect information" was used only to send U.S. soldiers to explore the site and to see whether there were enemy forces.

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