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Wednesday, 6 February, 2002, 18:38 GMT
US releases captives from 'mistaken' raid
Weapons left after the raid in Hazar Qadam
The US claimed the base was an al-Qaeda hide-out
US forces have released 27 people detained during a raid in Afghanistan in which they are accused of killing 15 innocent people by mistake.

The captives were wrongly suspected of being al-Qaeda members and Taleban fighters, said a spokesman for US Central Command, Major Ralph Mills.

Car damaged in US raid on Hazar Qadam
The US is investigating the Hazar Qadam raid
US special forces seized them in a pre-dawn raid on a school suspected of being an al-Qaeda hideout near the village of Hazar Qadam - about 60 miles north of Kandahar.

Major Mills said an investigation was continuing into whether the 15 people killed in the 23 January attack had also been wrongly identified.

The releases came as interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai described the raid as "a mistake of sorts" resulting from "an unfortunate movement of people at the wrong time".

In an interview with the Washington Post newspaper, he also said the United States had acknowledged wrongly bombing innocent Afghan civilians.

Negotiators

The United States initially maintained that the attack on Hazar Qadam had killed 15 al-Qaeda fighters.


Village elders said the victims of the raid had been sent to the compound by a pro-government official to negotiate the surrender of Taleban weapons.

Major Mills said the men at the base "were not wearing uniforms, were carrying weapons" and had "fired upon US forces in uniform".

He would not say whether a local police chief, his deputy and members of a district council were among the freed men, as local Afghans had claimed.

The detainees' names would not be revealed as some were believed to be "criminals", he said.

The captives were handed over to an Afghan government official on Wednesday.

'Tribal elders killed'

Mr Karzai is visiting the west of Afghanistan, an area through which the US says al-Qaeda fighters have been escaping into Iran.

Interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai
Hamid Karzai: US "immediately apologised"
In the interview, he told the Post that the Americans had "immediately come to explain, immediately apologised" over bombing raids that had gone wrong.

He also discussed a second disputed raid, in which 65 people were killed when a convoy was bombed in December.

America has always maintained the convoy comprised al-Qaeda or Taleban fighters.

But local people said the convoy was made up of people who had left the eastern town of Khost who were travelling to Kabul to attend Mr Karzai's inauguration.

Mr Karzai told the Post that the dead were "tribal elders".

The Afghan leader said US forces had been issued with new procedures to cut out the risk of more mistaken bombing.

There has been no official US reaction to Mr Karzai's comments.

See also:

06 Feb 02 | Americas
CIA warns of al-Qaeda attacks
27 Jan 02 | South Asia
Controversy clouds Karzai's US visit
03 Jan 02 | South Asia
Afghanistan's civilian deaths mount
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