Washington — American forces have determined they captured the wrong people in a deadly Jan. 23 commando raid in Afghanistan and have released them.
An investigation continues to determine if some 15 killed in the raid on a suspected al-Qaida hide-out also were the wrong people _ that is, not Taliban and al-Qaida figures that troops were after, Maj. Ralph Mills, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command said Wednesday.
The 27 captured were handed over at about 6:30 a.m. EST Wednesday to an official of the interim Afghan government, Mills said.
"We were able to determine that they were not Taliban forces and they were not affiliated with al-Qaida," Mills said.
Asked to confirm Afghan claims that two were local police officials, he said: "We do believe that some of them were criminals (so) decided we will not release names or other identifying information."
Gen. Tommy Franks, commander in chief of U.S. Central Command, ordered an investigation last week in response to assertions by Afghan government officials that anti-Taliban people were among those killed or captured.
In announcing the investigation, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters he was unwilling to say U.S. forces misidentified the targeted compounds.
"I don't think it was any sense on our part that we've done something wrong," Myers said last week.
Mills said Wednesday that the men "were not wearing uniforms, were carrying weapons and they fired upon U.S. forces in uniform."
Asked if intelligence information that prompted the raid has been determined faulty, Mills said: "Obviously, we had a reason to go into that area. We still stand firmly on that reason."
Local Afghans say some of those killed were anti-Taliban forces loyal to Hamid Karzai, the head of the interim Afghan government, and that among those arrested were a police chief, his deputy and members of a district council. They labeled the raid a tragic case of mistaken identities.
U.S. forces said they found a large cache of weapons. Some Afghans say Taliban renegades were handing over weapons to the new government at the raided site.
The raid was one among a series carried out by U.S. special forces _ sometimes in tandem with Afghan forces _ to extinguish pockets of Taliban and al-Qaida resistance.
The Jan. 23 raid was on two compounds about 60 miles north of Kandahar. One U.S. soldier suffered a bullet wound in the ankle during the operation, which was carried out in darkness.
Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld has said there were good reasons to believe enemy fighters were in the compounds. He cited three "notable facts:" The presence of large numbers of weapons, the absence of women and children, and the fact that the U.S. troops were shot at as they breached the compound.