WASHINGTON – American forces have determined they captured the wrong people in a deadly Jan. 23 commando raid in Afghanistan and have released them.
An investigation continues to determine if some 15 killed in the raid on a suspected Al Qaeda hide-out also were the wrong people — that is, not Taliban and Al Qaeda figures that troops were after, Maj. Ralph Mills, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command said Wednesday.
Meanwhile, U.S. officials also have acknowledged they accidentally killed dozens of Afghans in another operation — the late December bombing of a convoy of tribal figures as they traveled to the inauguration of interim leader Hamid Karzai, Karzai said in a newspaper interview.
The 27 captured in the January pre-dawn raid by American special forces were handed over at about 6:30 a.m. EST Wednesday to an official of the government, Mills said.
"We were able to determine that they were not Taliban forces and they were not affiliated with Al Qaeda," Mills said.
Asked to confirm Afghan claims that two were local police officials, he said: "We do believe that some of them were criminals (so) decided we will not release names or other identifying information."
Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of the war, ordered an investigation last week in response to assertions by 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 reporters 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 last week.
The raid was on two compounds about 60 miles north of Kandahar in the Hazar Qadam Valley village of Khas Uruzgan.
Mills said Wednesday that the men "were not wearing uniforms, were carrying weapons and they fired upon U.S. forces in uniform." One U.S. soldier suffered a bullet wound in the ankle during the operation.
Asked if intelligence information that prompted the raid has been determined faulty, Mills said: "Obviously, we had a reason to go into that area. We still stand firmly on that reason."
Local Afghans say some of those killed were anti-Taliban forces loyal to Karzai, and that among those arrested were a police chief, his deputy and members of a district council.
U.S. forces said they found a large cache of weapons. Some Afghans say Taliban renegades were handing over weapons to the new government at the site.
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 Qaeda resistance.
Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld has 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.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post quoted Karzai Wednesday as saying that U.S. forces also have admitted to him they mistakenly killed innocent people a day before his inauguration when U.S. jets destroyed a convoy of trucks near the city of Khost in Paktia province, also on the belief it included Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders.
Up to 65 people reportedly were killed.
Karzai said U.S. forces were purposely misled into believing the convoy included Taliban officials. Americans have said from the outset that rivalries between ethnic groups and local warlords has made more difficult the campaign started after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America to get Usama bin Laden, his Al Qaeda network and Taliban rulers who harbored them.
Karzai described the January as "a mistake of sorts," resulting from "an unfortunate movement of people at the wrong time." He said the Americans have acknowledged their mistakes, sometimes with financial compensation.
Pentagon officials said late last week that they couldn't explain Afghan claims that U.S. soldiers were handing out $1,000 to the family of each man killed in the January raid. Officials said Wednesday that it was the CIA that had been paying the families.