Kabul, Afghanistan Afghans have challenged U.S. accounts of a firefight, claiming U.S. Special Forces soldiers killed the wrong people sleeping in a school during a raid in which the Pentagon said a Taliban weapons cache was destroyed and about 15 people killed.
The allegations were raised as Prime Minister Hamid Karzai traveled Sunday to Washington, where he is expected to discuss the on-going military operations in meetings with U.S. President George W. Bush and congressional leaders.
Karzai will also journey to New York to attend a meeting of the U.N. Security Council and visit the site of the destroyed World Trade Center.
"I'll tell (Bush) that the Afghan people sympathise with the pain the American people suffered in that horrible attack and that probably the Afghans are the best people to see that kind of suffering because we have suffered as well," Karzai said.
Defending U.S. tactics in the war in Afghanistan, top commander Gen. Tommy Franks told a news conference Saturday in Pakistan that deploying large numbers of ground troops would not have increased chances of capturing Osama bin Laden or Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.
U.S. commandos working with anti-Taliban Afghans have been combing rugged countryside and deep mountain caves searching for renegades loyal to bin Laden, blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks, and Omar, who gave the al-Qaida terror network a base of operations in Afghanistan.
In one such operation, the Pentagon said U.S. Army Special Forces raided two Taliban compounds at Hazar Qadam, about 60 miles north of Kandahar, killing about 15 people, capturing 27 and destroying a large number of weapons. One American soldier was wounded in the ankle.
However, villagers in Uruzgan province, where the raid took place, claimed Saturday that the victims were neither Taliban nor al-Qaida fighters but Afghans sent by a pro-government official to negotiate the surrender of weapons from Taliban holdouts in the area.
The party of 18 men, led by Haji Sana Gul, convinced the Taliban to hand over the weapons, according to Bari Gul, his brother. Rather than leave the area at night, Haji Sana Gul's party spent the night in a local madrassa, or Islamic school, with dozens of other people, the brother added.
However, U.S. troops swept down before dawn Thursday and killed several people in the madrassa, including Haji Sana Gul, the brother said. Two of the dead were found with their hands tied behind their backs, he said. Three more people were killed at a district building 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) away.
Bari Gul speculated that someone misled the Americans, falsely claiming he and his men were al-Qaida or Taliban. Afghans have in the past accused local leaders of misleading U.S. troops so they would kill their rivals.
In Kandahar, Yusuf Pashtun, an aide of Kandahar Gov. Gul Agha, told The Associated Press that officials from Uruzgan province said some police buildings were damaged in the raid.
Pashtun admitted that some former Taliban officials were believed hiding in Uruzgan, including Omar. Pashtun added, however, that the commandos hit the wrong place.
"It looks like it was raided by mistake," Pashtun said. "The people of the district center are very much against the Taliban."
At the U.S. military base in Kandahar, an Army spokesman, Maj. A.C. Roper, told a news briefing Sunday that the reports "are not consistent with our intelligence."
"Our soldiers are well trained. They're judicious and prudent in their use of force," Roper said. "This war is fluid. It's an ever-changing battlefield."
However, U.S. officials have acknowledged the difficulty in gathering reliable intelligence in a country dominated by warlords and tribal leaders with a tradition of shifting loyalties.
The Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press reported Sunday that about 30 U.S. soldiers, supported by helicopters, searched a tribal settlement of about 100 tents Friday in Khost province, near Pakistan. They found no al-Qaida or Taliban members. The report could not be independently confirmed.
In other developments:
The editor of the newly launched Kabul Weekly, the Afghan capital's first independent newspaper, said Sunday that the believes the paper will test the interim government's stated commitment to media freedom. Editor Fahmi Dashty told a news conference that one challenge will be a population not familiar with a free media. The paper is being funded by the U.N. Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Former king Mohammad Zaher Shah is preparing to return to Kabul by March 21 and may be accompanied on the trip from Rome by current Afghan leader Hamid Karzai, an aide said Sunday. The king hasn't been to Afghanistan since his 1973 ouster. He will eventually convene a grand council to pick a new government succeeding Karzai's interim administration.