U.S. forces in Afghanistan have acknowledged mistakes may have been made in two recent raids on suspected terrorist targets. Some defense officials believe sinister forces may be at play.
Pentagon sources say there may be elements inside Afghanistan trying to embarrass interim leader Hamid Karzai by attempting to lure U.S. forces into strikes that later prove to be mistakes.
The sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, were discussing a raid by American Special Forces two weeks ago on a suspected terrorist munitions depot north of Kandahar, as well as a U.S. air-strike on a suspected Taleban convoy last December.
Both now appear to have been carried out in error and U.S. military officials have announced the release of 27 detainees from the raid north of Kandahar. Apologies have been made and compensation paid to the families of at least 15 others who were killed in that attack, originally described as a successful strike resulting in demolition of a huge munitions stockpile.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said the incident reflects the fact that U.S. troops are operating in a very murky environment.
"In Afghanistan, people who are friendly and unfriendly are constantly meeting together. Indeed, sometimes the same people can be friendly and later unfriendly within a relatively short period of time. There are also people who can pretend they are friendly and who, in fact, are not very friendly, and who provide aid and comfort and assistance to the Taleban and al Qaida that are still in the country. It is not a neat, clean, tidy situation," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
Pentagon sources insist special care is being taken by U.S. forces in evaluating intelligence information provided by Afghan sources. They say it is needed since there are few clear-cut military targets in the country.
They also note Afghanistan's current government is not only new, but also temporary. They say local tribal leaders around the country are trying to secure their grip on power and say some are clearly looking for opportunities to expand their political influence.
That was apparently the case in a December U.S. air-strike on what was originally described as a suspected Taleban leadership convoy.
Afghan interim leader Karzai now says U.S. bombs actually struck a group of tribal elders on their way to Kabul for his inauguration. The Afghan leader told The Washington Post U.S. forces were intentionally misled - apparently by a local chief seeking to eliminate rivals.
Pentagon sources say "that is the way business is done" in Afghanistan, noting the payment of compensation to the families of victims is also an accepted way of resolving such mistakes. They say it explains Mr. Karzai's political interest in pressing U.S. officials for extra funds for such payments.