A(nother) U.S. special forces night raid goes wrong
(Friends and relatives of three Afghan students killed in a recent raid by US Special Forces pray during a memorial for the trio earlier this month in Kabul.)
It began with an Aug. 12 press release from the US-led military in Afghanistan.
KABUL, Afghanistan (Aug. 12) - An Afghan and coalition security force killed several suspected insurgents and detained many more, including a Taliban commander, in Wardak province Wednesday.
The commander conducted improvised explosive device, direct fire and indirect fire attacks against Afghan civilians, and Afghan and coalition forces.
The security force targeted a series of compounds in Zarin Rhankhel in Sayyidabad district to search for the commander.
As the security force approached the area, several suspected insurgents showed hostile intent from one of the targeted compounds. The assault force engaged the threat, killing the men. After securing the compound, the assault force detained one suspected insurgent.
At a series of compounds nearby, Afghan forces called for all residents to exit each of the compounds peacefully and then secured the area.
After questioning the residents, the assault force identified and detained the commander and three additional suspected insurgents.
"This capture will severely degrade Taliban operations in the Tangi and Shehkabad district. Now one less criminal is on the streets endangering Afghan civilians with his indiscriminate IED attacks," said U.S. Army Col. Rafael Torres, International Security Assistance Force Joint Command Combined Joint Operations Center director. The security force protected the women and children throughout the search.
The press release was one in an endless stream coming from the US-led forces that often passes with little scrutiny.
In this case, the press release captured some attention because the killings sparked an angry, anti-American protest by Afghans who accused the US special forces of killing three young, innocent Afghan students who had just come home, hours before the raid, to be with their family for the start of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting, prayer and contemplation.
As it turned out, the information in the press release proved to be inaccurate and, in many ways, misleading.
After checking the identity of the target of the raid, US officials now concede that they aren't sure that they have the right man. So, one less insurgent was not off the street, the Taliban operations were not degraded, and the three "suspected insurgents" appeared to be students and not militants at all.
And the suspected target of the raid wasn't even captured in the compound where the three guys were killed. The suspected commander was found in a compound 100 yards away.
While the press release creates the impression that US forces took fire from the "suspected insurgents" firing from a distance "as they approached the area," in fact, the three students were killed in a cramped room inside the compound where their family said they had gone to study for the evening.
The story told by the US military paints a dramatic picture of three brothers with one AK-47 who were shot, one after the other, as they tried in succession to pick up the lone rifle in the room.
Family members said they had no weapons in the compound and accused the US special forces of murder.
Blood stains in photos provided by the family suggest that the three were killed where they had been sleeping.
Night raids remain one of the biggest points of friction between the US-led military and Afghans.
A surge in special forces teams has created a dramatic spike in night raids. On average, the US military says, special forces teams are conducting more than 30 operations each day.
The US is quick to point out that, in most cases, the raids end without a shot being fired.
From Aug. 5, 2009, to Aug. 5, 2010, the American-led coalition said, the special forces team involved in the Wardak operation killed or captured 553 targets in 1,225 raids. The assault teams opened fire in only two of every 10 cases, the military said.
But it is not the raids that end without a confrontation that Afghans remember; it is the ones that end in dispute.
"He was not Taliban," Omid Ali, 21, said in broken English about his school friend Ismail Nemati, one of the three killed in the raid. "I want to say to President Obama: Afghanistan doesn't have hostility towards foreign forces, but, these mistakes, that is how they will be defeated in Afghanistan."