Two months ago, I wrote a piece for the “The Los Angeles Times” proposing that Afghan civilians who had lost relatives, limbs, homes and businesses due to errantly-targeted U.S. bombs receive compensation from Washington. The article was reprinted; I talked up the idea on television and radio. And never have I received more hate mail, with my assailants virulently accusing me of being anti-American and pro-terrorists. Bill O’Reilly bashed me for demanding the United States pay “reparations.” But my point simply was that when the United States accidentally inflicted damage upon civilians (such as one young boy who lost his right arm, his left hand and his sight when U.S. bombs struck his home near Tora Bora), it should try to help those harmed. Now, I am happy to note, the C.I.A. is on my side, for the Agency in the past few days has been handing out cash to relatives of Afghan soldiers mistakenly slaughtered by the United States.
On January 24, U.S. Special Operations troops attacked two small compounds in Haraz Qadam, a town 100 miles north of Kandahar. At least eighteen people were killed. Twenty-seven were captured, and the Pentagon announced its prisoners were Taliban and al Qaeda fighters. The daring operation was front-page news. But days later, media reports, based on interviews with local residents, undermined the official account. The townspeople said one of the compounds was being used as a weapons depot for a local disarmament drive and that the Afghans killed and snatched by the Americans were not Taliban or al Qaeda but troops loyal to the interim government of Kabul. According to local Afghans, the bodies of two individuals had their hands tied behind their backs. About a week later, C.I.A. officers were in the field working with tribal leaders to pay $1000 to the family of each Afghan wrongfully killed.
What is interesting is how the Pentagon at first tried to deny a tragedy had taken place. When Craig Smith of “The New York Times” wrote a story questioning the raids on January 28–after interviewing dozens of local folks whose testimony was compelling–the Pentagon, in automatic-pilot fashion, defended the operation. “We take great care to ensure we are engaging confirmed Taliban or Al Qaeda facilities,” Maj. Bill Harrison, a U.S. Central Command spokesman, told the newspaper. “As a result of this mission, we detained 27 individuals, and believe that our forces engaged the intended target.”
Three days later, after Afghan officials kept insisting innocent troops had been killed, the Pentagon announced it was reviewing the episode. But General Tommy Franks, the Central Command chief, said the Pentagon had no information to suggest friendly forces had been killed. (Guess he doesn’t have time to read the papers.) Two days after that, “senior military officials” told the Associated Press that some of those killed, but not all, might have been loyal to the new government and that the individuals captured and killed including persons of mixed political loyalties. Slowly, the Pentagon was backtracking.