- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 7, 2002

American authorities in Afghanistan have released 27 persons taken prisoner during a raid last month on what U.S. forces mistook as a hide-out for al Qaeda terrorists.
An investigation by U.S. Central Command is trying to determine whether some or all of the estimated 19 persons killed also were innocents, Maj. Ralph Mills, a spokesman for the command, said yesterday.
After two weeks of confusion and conflicting accounts of what happened in the Jan. 23 raid, the Pentagon made no official announcement yesterday. Asked about it by reporters during an appearance on Capitol Hill, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said he did not know the 27 had been released.
"It's a very complicated situation on the ground" in Afghanistan, Mr. Rumsfeld said, especially as the new government works to overcome feudal divisions within the country and empower people once loyal to the ousted Taliban rulers.
The episode underscores the difficulty U.S. and allied troops face in hunting down remnants of al Qaeda and Taliban fighters at a time when the Afghan government is trying to overcome tribal divisions.
Meanwhile, U.S. forces in Afghanistan were preparing to take possession of as many as 60 more Taliban and al Qaeda prisoners held by Afghan forces, a senior U.S. defense official said. The number of prisoners in U.S. custody in Afghanistan has stood at 324 for more than a week; there also are 158 al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners held at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
It was not clear yesterday whether any of the additional 60 prisoners to be turned over later this week in Afghanistan were senior figures in either al Qaeda or the Taliban militia that supported it. Officials said it was possible that U.S. officials would not accept all the prisoners offered.
The transfer of al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners from Afghanistan to Guantanamo Bay resumed yesterday with an Air Force C-17 transport plane taking off during the night from Kandahar, Afghanistan. There was no word on how many prisoners were on board. They are expected to land at Guantanamo Bay today.
After a series of flights between Jan. 11 and 21, Mr. Rumsfeld halted the process while more temporary cells were built. A new group of 160 cells is now ready to receive prisoners, officials said yesterday.
The 27 captured in the Jan. 23 raid by Army Special Forces soldiers were released to authorities of the Afghan interim government at 6:30 a.m. EST yesterday, Central Command spokesman Maj. Mills said.
"We were able to determine that they were not Taliban forces and they were not affiliated with al Qaeda," Maj. Mills said.
Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of the war, ordered an investigation last week in response to assertions by Afghan government officials that people opposed to the Taliban were among those killed or captured.
In a related matter, The Washington Post quoted the interim leader of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, as saying U.S. forces have comceded to him that 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.
Up to 65 persons believed to be al Qaeda and Taliban reportedly were killed.
Mr. 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 have made more difficult the campaign to get Osama bin Laden, his al Qaeda network and the Taliban rulers who harbored them.

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