- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 20, 2002

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Prisoners captured in the latest raid on a suspected Afghan terrorist compound have turned out to be neither Taliban nor al Qaeda fighters and will be released, U.S. military officials said yesterday.
The development highlights difficulties the U.S.-led coalition has in figuring out who's who in a nation where lawlessness is rampant and where one-time supporters switched sides after the fall of the Taliban regime.
Sunday's raid was made public but others, with similar outcomes, have remained a secret.
American forces detained 31 suspected al Qaeda or Taliban guerrillas Sunday in what they called a military compound near the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.
During interrogation, Americans found they were not figures wanted by the United States in its campaign to rout terrorists from Afghanistan, two U.S. defense officials said yesterday, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
They said it was unclear when those detained would be released.
Officials have given few details about the operation except to say U.S. forces went into the compound about 40 miles west of Kandahar and detained 31 persons.
The capture came as coalition forces were winding down Operation Anaconda, a 2,000-troop assault to kill or capture al Qaeda and Taliban guerrillas believed to be regrouping in eastern Afghanistan.
"Over the last two weeks most of the focus has been in and around Anaconda … our largest offensive," Brig. Gen. John W. Rosa Jr. told reporters Monday.
"But we continue to surveil. We continued our intelligence efforts all through the country," he said. "It's ongoing, and the key indicators made us believe that we needed to go into that compound."
Before Anaconda, the last known ground operation was Jan. 23, when U.S. special forces raided a compound where the United States mistakenly believed enemy figures were holed up. The Pentagon has said that 16 persons who turned out not to be al Qaeda or Taliban fighters were killed when they resisted and that an additional 27 captured were released to Afghan authorities.
Smaller, undisclosed raids took place before and after the Jan. 23 raid, officials have said privately. Those raids concentrated on gathering information about pockets of resistance and at times netted documents or individuals who were interrogated or released, officials said.
Meanwhile, a U.S. helicopter was damaged in a "hard landing" north of Kandahar, said Maj. Ralph Mills, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command. The accident happened about 1 p.m. EST Monday and was not due to hostile fire, Maj. Mills said.
Although the MH-53 Pave Low helicopter was too damaged to fly, its crew and passengers were safely evacuated and none had life-threatening injuries, the officer said.


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