Archive for Friday, March 29, 2002

Death of U.S. soldier in Operation Anaconda investigated as friendly fire

March 29, 2002


— The first U.S. soldier killed during the Operation Anaconda assault on al-Qaida this month in Afghanistan may have been hit by friendly fire, officials disclosed Friday.

Previously, it had been thought that the soldier, Army Chief Warrant Officer Stanley L. Harriman, 34, of Wade, N.C., was killed in an enemy attack March 2 on a convoy of U.S. and Afghan forces at the beginning of the operation in eastern Afghanistan's Shah-e-kot valley.

But war commander Gen. Tommy Franks said Friday that he asked for an investigation after noticing that an AC-130 gunship reported hitting an enemy convoy in the same region at about the same time.

"The coincidence of the timing of the AC-130 strike and the strike on that convoy were in my view sufficient to cause me to ask the question," Franks told a Pentagon press conference.

Franks' disclosure came as part of report making public some of the findings on 10 cases of friendly-fire and civilian casualties since the war in Afghanistan began nearly six months ago.

The report confirmed that U.S. communications and procedural errors resulted in several other friendly-fire incidents causing the deaths of American soldiers in Afghanistan. But it said the United States was not at fault in several other incidents that harmed innocent civilians.

One was a Jan. 23 raid on two suspected enemy compounds in which U.S. troops killed 16 and captured 27 who later turned out to be neither al-Qaida nor Taliban. The 27 were later released.

"The investigation concluded that there were no systemic errors in the targeting process, mission planning or mission execution," according to the report.

"The fact is we're never going to be able to absolutely eradicate the loss of life  and in some cases the loss of the wrong life  when we are engaged in these kinds of operations," Franks said, discussing the case at the briefing.

"If we're honest and we're sincere, we want to be lifelong learners from each one of these incidents," Franks said.

On other matters, Franks said U.S. officials continue to receive hundreds of tips on Osama bin Laden's possible whereabouts and check them out. None has proved fruitful, he said.

"I have not seen anything that (indicates that) if we'd only been a little quicker, we'd have had him," Franks said.

Franks also disputed reports that large numbers of al-Qaida fighters had escaped into Pakistan after Operation Anaconda. "I wouldn't buy the numbers," he said.

Because U.S. and allied forces were encircling the area during the U.S. assault to prevent escape, Franks called it "unfeasible" that large numbers of enemy forces had managed to get away.

"But small numbers  sure," the war commander said.

On another issue, Franks said that U.S. "assets" were involved in raids inside Pakistan this week that resulted in the capture of several suspected extremists, although he said no U.S. military troops were involved. That indicated law-enforcement or intelligence officials might have been involved, but U.S. officials have refused comment.

"I think there was cooperation between assets of our government and assets of the (Pakistani) government," Franks said. "I don't think it would be appropriate for me" to comment further.

Franks also said he had never talked with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf about the possibility that U.S. troops might cross into that country to search for al-Qaida fighters.

But he added: "The relationship we have had with Pakistan has not foreclosed the possibility of anything."

He also denied he is building up forces in Kuwait as a prelude to attacking Iraq, saying troops there are a "hedge against miscalculation." U.S. officials have said they wanted to ensure they had enough forces in the area in case Iraq decided to invade Kuwait.

On the civilian casualties report, the military also said it had determined there was no evidence of wrongdoing involving several detainees who reported they had been mistreated by U.S. forces while in custody in Afghanistan. The people detained in January at Hazar Qadam had injuries that "were not serious or life-threatening and were consistent with what might be expected from the application of force reasonably necessary to secure them," the report found.

The U.S. report reiterated that U.S. procedural errors caused a friendly-fire incident that killed five Americans troops Nov. 26. Another friendly-fire incident Dec. 5 that killed three U.S. military personnel remains under review.

Neither Afghan nor U.S. authorities have calculated Afghanistan's civilian death toll in the war on terrorism. Although estimates have placed the civilian dead in the thousands, a review by The Associated Press suggests the toll may be in the mid-hundreds, a figure reached by examining hospital records, visiting bomb sites and interviewing witnesses and officials.

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