The Pentagon has announced it is investigating claims that U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan might have made a mistake in a bloody raid carried out last week north of Kandahar.
Just two days ago the Pentagon was dismissing claims the nighttime surprise raid may have resulted in the killing and capturing of the wrong people. A military spokesman, Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem, insisted the raid on a complex of buildings north of Kandahar hit a legitimate military target, one where suspicious, terrorist-like activities had been observed and where a large quantity of munitions was discovered.
Now, though, defense officials say that at the behest of Afghan authorities, they are investigating charges by local villagers that the raid may have mistakenly hit a compound used to store weapons collected in a disarmament drive, a drive organized by authorities supporting Afghanistan's new interim government. At least 15 people were killed in the raid and 27 detained, all of them described by locals as supporters of the new government.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld appears skeptical about suggestions the raid went wrong. "There were large numbers of weapons that were confiscated and no women and children and as the American and the Afghan forces approached, they were shot at by the people in the compound," he said.
But confusion remains on several points. Despite Mr. Rumsfeld's comment, Pentagon officials say only U.S. troops were involved in the raid, no Afghans. The Pentagon has also admitted that it thought the compound was controlled by al-Qaida terrorists. Later it described the dead and the detainees as suspected Taleban.
Some reports suggest the U.S. forces may have been intentionally led to the target by one Afghan faction seeking to eliminate a rival group.
Mr. Rumsfeld appears to concede that is a possibility. "It is true that there are Afghan factions on the ground that don't get along," he said. "It is true that people say things in ways that they feel might advantage them. Second, there are people that had relationships with Taleban who want to be a part of the provincial governments that exist. There are tugs of war from time to time."
In the past, though, U.S. officials have said they take special care in checking out intelligence information passed along by local sources to ensure that American forces are not misused to further any faction's political motives.