After Green Beret Operation, Townspeople Have Questions About Bound Bodies

No American had visited this mountain-ringed town
recently, residents said today, until early Thursday,
when helicopters dangling Humvees descended from the sky and spilled shouting, shooting Special
Operations forces. Two hours later, 21 local soldiers
were dead and 27 others had been captured and taken away. A piece of paper showing an American flag [was found] on the windshield of one of the destroyed trucks. Large letters on the paper read, “God Bless America,” and “Have a nice day. From Damage, Inc.”

2002.01.28

ORUZGAN – No American had visited this mountain-ringed town
recently, residents said today, until early Thursday,
when helicopters dangling Humvees descended from the sky and spilled shouting, shooting Special
Operations forces into two small compounds, a mile
and a half apart.

Two hours later, 21 local soldiers were dead and 27
others had been captured and taken away.


At daybreak, when neighbors and a few who escaped
the carnage ventured back to inspect the damage,
they said they found the charred bodies of more
than a dozen men who had been shot and burned in
the rooms of one of the compounds.


Townspeople said they had also found two bodies
outside the compound, their hands tied behind them
with strips of tough white plastic.


The Pentagon defends the raid as an appropriate
military action.

“We take great care to ensure we
are engaging confirmed Taliban or Al Qaeda
facilities,” Maj. Bill Harrison, a spokesman for
the United States Central Command in Tampa, Fla.,
said today.


But in dozens of interviews this weekend,
residents in this town about 100 miles north of
Kandahar in central Afghanistan said the two-hour
raid before dawn, which ended with an American
plane firing at the compound, was an error.


The compound where the most people died is a
former grade school that was briefly used by the
Taliban late in the war, the townspeople say.

More recently, it has been used as a weapons depot
for a local disarmament drive.


At the scene, Ahmad Shah, a wizened farmer whose
house is 100 yards from the school, said he had
helped move one of the two bound bodies.

He said “I never had seen anything like”
the binding, adding, “It was very strong, and we couldn’t open it and finally had to cut it off.”


All the dead have now been buried, so their
bodies were not available for examination.


During the raid, Mr. Shah said he heard people in
the compound shouting: “For God’s sake, do not kill us! We surrender!”


All the officials and local commanders
interviewed in the area, including the provincial
governor, insist that Taliban and Al Qaeda
fighters are no longer in the area, which has been
quiet since the interim government took power in
Kabul on Dec. 22.


Many of the people interviewed here said they
suspected that the United States had been misled
by false intelligence information deliberately
spread by one of the two factions in town that
were vying to control weapons left behind by
departing Taliban.


But the Pentagon says it has other ways of
getting information, including U-2 planes and spy
satellite reconnaissance photos, Predator drones
and RC-135 planes that collect electronic
transmissions.

In this case, Major Harrison declined to say what
intelligence the American forces had relied on.


The people here say there was no notice given to
the people in either compound that they were under
any threat.


Sayeed Muhammad, 25, a soldier who had been
posted for a month at the school, said he had
wakened to the sound of gunfire shattering the
windows and door of the room in which he and 11
other men were sleeping.


“There was only one gun in the room,” Mr. Muhammad said, picking at a bloody bandage on his foot during an interview tonight. He said Shah
Muhammad, a cousin, had grabbed the gun and
started shooting from the door.


Sayeed Muhammad said the gun, an AK-47, had only
four bullets. Many of the men in the room were
killed almost immediately, he said.

“We were working for the governor of the province and for Hamid Karzai,” he said.


Jan Muhammad Khan, who was recently appointed
governor of Oruzgan Province by Mr. Karzai, said
in an interview on Saturday that the men in the
compound had been working for him.

While the Pentagon has said the raid was directed
at a munitions store, Mr. Khan disputed that,
saying the men at the compound had been collecting
weapons left behind by departing Taliban.


At dawn, people who live near the schoolhouse
recalled, they had gathered in the courtyard to
collect the dead, 19 in that compound.


Obiad Ullah, 37, said he had found a man named
Abdul Rauf lying on a pile of stones that morning.
Mr. Rauf’s body was covered with blood, and his
hands were bound behind him with a plastic
strip.


Mr. Shah, the farmer who lives near the school,
said he had found the other dead man, Shah
Muhammad, lying face down near the compound’s
gate.

One of his thigh bones was protruding from
his leg, and half of one foot was missing, this
witness said. His hands, too, were bound behind
his body.


The 27 who were captured came from the other
compound, where two people were reported killed.

Muhammad Yunas, one of two men claiming to be
Oruzgan’s district government chief, who
controlled that compound, said that after the
soldiers and their captives were gone, gunfire and
rockets rained from the sky, destroying the
ammunition dump.


Mr. Yunas said he had found a piece of paper
showing an American flag on the windshield of one
of the compound’s destroyed trucks.

Large letters on the paper read, “God Bless
America,” and in one corner, someone had
written: “Have a nice day. From Damage, Inc.”


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Author: Craig S. Smith

News Service: New York Times

URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2002/01/28/international/asia/28AFGH.html