Senior defense officials are dismissing reports that a bloody raid by U.S. troops last week may have resulted in the deaths not of Taleban soldiers but supporters of Afghanistan's new interim government. .
Pentagon spokesman, Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem, insists the raid on a complex of buildings north of Kandahar hit what he calls a legitimate military target. He tells Pentagon reporters suspicious, terrorist-like activities had been observed there over time. "Stolen U.N. vehicles had been seen moving in and out of this compound. Late at night, groups of vehicles had been driving in and out," he says. "So there were clear indications that this was some sort of a meeting house of people who were doing something that does not look like a traditional village, and in fact, had clear indicators of being something that was protected and guarded, much like compounds we have seen where Taleban and al-Qaida have gathered before."
But Admiral Stufflebeem says rather than bomb the compound from the air, it was decided to send in ground forces, hopefully to detain some of the suspects found there. He says the U.S. soldiers were immediately fired upon even though they identified themselves in what he concedes was a nighttime surprise attack. "And in defending themselves, there were -- and I don't have the exact numbers, so -- I think there were 15 or 16 people who were killed, and the remainder were taken into custody -- 27," he says.
A report in The New York Times quotes local residents as saying the raid was a mistake --- that the compound was being used to store weapons collected in a disarmament drive organized by authorities supporting Afghanistan's new interim government.
The newspaper also reports two of the bodies discovered after the raid were found with their hands bound behind their backs.
Admiral Stufflebeem says detainees from the raid are now being interrogated to determine who they are and what they were doing. As for the bound bodies, he says they appear to have been captives of those holding the complex.
Admiral Stufflebeem acknowledges a large amount of munitions were seized and destroyed in the raid. And he says it is possible the munitions may have been collected at the instruction of the new interim government. But he remains skeptical. "What it does not explain are the traditional Taleban and al-Qaida modus operandi of moving in the groups of vehicles that they do, at the times that they did, and guarded in the way that it was, nor does it explain why the U.S. forces were fired upon to the extent that they were," says Admiral Stufflebeem.
He says none of those detained in the raid have given any information that would support the contentions of local residents. And he rejects the idea that some Afghans may have provided U.S. forces with bad intelligence intentionally to eliminate political rivals.