U.S. officials believe some anti-Taliban forces captured or killed in disputed Jan. 23 raid

Friday, February 1st 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ U.S. military officials now believe innocents were among the estimated 15 people killed and 27 captured in a nighttime raid on two remote compounds in Afghanistan last week.

A formal Central Command investigation has not been completed, but two senior officials said Friday it appears likely that a mix of Taliban and anti-Taliban fighters were present at the site. U.S. intelligence officers had believed it was a hide-out for members of the al-Qaida terrorist network.

Gen. Tommy Franks, commander in chief of Central Command, ordered an investigation earlier this week in response to assertions from Afghan government officials that anti-Taliban people were among those killed or captured.

In announcing the investigation, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Pentagon news conference Wednesday he was unwilling to say U.S. forces misidentified the targeted compounds.

``I don't think it was any sense on our part that we've done something wrong,'' Myers said.

Local Afghans say some of those killed were anti-Taliban forces loyal to Hamid Karzai, the head of the interim Afghan government, and that among those arrested were a police chief, his deputy and members of a district council. They labeled the raid a tragic case of mistaken identities.

Senior U.S. military officials said Friday that while it does not look like all of those killed and captured were friendly to the new government, some probably were.

One official said it seemed likely that the killed and captured were a mixture of Afghans loyal to Karzai, ``criminals'' not necessarily associated with the Taliban or al-Qaida, and some Taliban figures.

U.S. officials have said that if innocents are among the 27 captives, they will be released. All are being held for questioning at a U.S.-operated detention facility at Kandahar airport.

The raid was one among a series carried out by U.S. special forces _ sometimes in tandem with Afghan forces _ to extinguish pockets of Taliban and al-Qaida resistance.

The Jan. 23 raid was on two compounds about 60 miles north of Kandahar. One U.S. soldier suffered a bullet wound in the ankle during the operation, which was carried out under the cover of darkness.

Myers, the Joint Chiefs chairman, said Wednesday that basic facts about the raid _ including who shot first _ had not been verified. He said he had ordered the investigation because ``when there are allegations, you've got to go run them to ground.''

The Pentagon's description of the raid, its target and the circumstances has changed over time. For example:

_ U.S. officials initially told reporters that large amounts of ammunition _ but few weapons _ were stored at the two compounds. But on Wednesday Rumsfeld contradicted that by saying ``large numbers of weapons'' were confiscated by the U.S. raiders.

_ In the immediate aftermath of the raid, Myers told a Pentagon news conference that although U.S. intelligence indicated that al-Qaida fighters were occupying the compounds, the raiders found Taliban forces were there instead. And he said those taken prisoner were mainly Taliban.

On Monday, however, a spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Rear. Adm. John Stufflebeem, said, ``It just wasn't clear whom exactly we were dealing with.'' Nonetheless, Stufflebeem said, Franks was ``confident in the intelligence derived as to what this appeared to be'' _ an enemy outpost and a legitimate target.

_ Myers initially said the raid was carried out solely by U.S. special forces, but Rumsfeld on Wednesday said it was done jointly with Afghan forces.

Rumsfeld said there were good reasons to believe enemy fighters were in the compounds. He cited three ``notable facts'': The presence of large numbers of weapons, the absence of women and children, and the fact that the U.S. troops were shot at as they breached the compound.