- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2002

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday that a military raid last month killed Afghans by mistake after they fired on a group of U.S. Army soldiers.

"With respect to the people that fired on the American forces and then were killed, clearly in retrospect that's unfortunate," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "On the other hand, one cannot fault the people who fired back in self-defense."

"My impression is that they did their jobs, and it is a difficult situation that they're dealing with, and they used good judgment throughout the process," Mr. Rumsfeld said.

The Jan. 23 raid was initiated based on intelligence reports that indicated two compounds were pockets of enemy Taliban militia or al Qaeda terrorists.

An investigation later determined that the fighters killed in the raid were anti-Taliban guerrillas loyal to a local warlord.

The incident took place at a location north of Kandahar called Hazar Qadam where two groups at two compounds were observed by U.S. intelligence over several weeks as being either Taliban or al Qaeda fighters.

The intelligence "was not strong enough to simply call in an air strike," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "Instead, they decided to go in and conduct a ground direct-action activity, which they did do."

Some 20 of the Afghans were captured from one compound, he said. They were released days later.

"As they approached the second compound, an individual saw them, went inside the compound, and shortly thereafter, the people inside the compound began firing at the U.S. Army forces that were moving towards that compound," Mr. Rumsfeld said.

"In the course of the firefight, some number between 10 and 15, as I recall, of the Afghan people in that second compound were killed."

The U.S. soldiers later determined that the fighters were not Taliban or al Qaeda, he said.

Mr. Rumsfeld said military action in Afghanistan is "untidy."

"It is not a neat situation where all the good guys are here and the bad guys are there," he said. "It is a difficult situation. And I think all you can do is exactly what was done, is to be serious about pursuing al Qaeda and Taliban, to make judgments based on experience and best information as to the kinds of behavior that could suggest the possibility of al Qaeda or Taliban people, and then to, in some instances, use air power. In some instances you take direct action by the ground."

Mr. Rumsfeld said the Afghans were not "innocents."

"Let's not call them innocents," he said. "We don't know quite what they were. They were people who fired on our forces."

Local Afghans have said that the people killed in the Jan. 23 raid were anti-Taliban fighters loyal to Afghanistan's interim president, Hamid Karzai.

A large stash of weapons was found at the raid site.

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