WASHINGTON – The U.S. commander of the war in Afghanistan defended the actions of American soldiers in a January raid that killed 16 Afghans later determined to be friendly forces.
Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of U.S. Central Command, said Monday there had been no intelligence failure in the raid, even though those killed and captured turned out not to be the hostile forces that the U.S. soldiers had been told were there. He disputed suggestions that the U.S. troops had erred.
"The one mistake that I know was made was when people shot at American forces doing their job on the ground in Afghanistan," he said in a videoconference from Tampa, Fla., with reporters at the Pentagon.
During the night of Jan. 23, two teams of U.S. Army special forces soldiers conducted simultaneous raids on two compounds north of the city of Kandahar. Franks said intelligence gathered over an extended period suggested that members of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network were in the compounds. He said a decision was made to send special forces troops in on the ground to confirm that information, rather than send warplanes to bomb the site.
"Intelligence failure? No," Franks said, adding that it had been adequately investigated. He said he intended to take no disciplinary action against any U.S. forces involved.
"I am satisfied that, while unfortunate, I will not characterize it as a failure of any type," he said.
Franks said he was satisfied with the professionalism of the American forces involved in the raid. He said the U.S. troops began firing only after they were shot at -- from several directions at once in one of the two compounds raided.
In a related matter, Franks said he was about to meet with his chief of staff, Army Maj. Gen. Charles Campbell, who is returning from Afghanistan to report on ways of strengthening the security situation there over the long haul. Franks called the security environment there "murky and troublesome."
He said he would recommend to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld a course of action for improving security.
"What we'd like to do is improve the security situation in Afghanistan by having the Afghans do it," he said. Whatever actions are taken to accomplish that, it probably will not include U.S. peacekeepers, he added.
"I do not believe that we'll be involved in peacekeeping operations inside Afghanistan," he said.
Franks said U.S. forces still do not know where bin Laden is hiding, although they assume he is still alive. He said intelligence operatives are working with local Afghans across the country to identify areas used by al-Qaida or Taliban forces or places where their leaders may be hiding.
American forces have identified about 120 such sites in Afghanistan and sent troops to check on between 110 and 115 of them, Franks said. So far, the troops have not found any evidence that al-Qaida possessed chemical or biological weapons, though there is plenty of evidence that the terrorist network wanted such weapons, Franks said.