Death of a tall man, part 2

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue Feb 12 09:31:06 MST 2002

The Washington Post, February 11, 2002, Monday, Final Edition

Casualties of U.S. Miscalculations; Afghan Victims of CIA Missile Strike
Described as Peasants, Not Al Qaeda

Doug Struck, Washington Post Foreign Service

ZHAWAR--Mir Ahmad was a little tall. But he was not Osama bin Laden.

Villagers here in the remote mountains of eastern Afghanistan said Ahmad
and two other local men, Daraz and Jahan Gir, were peasants gathering scrap
metal from the war in a region of suspected al Qaeda hide-outs. They were
killed last Monday when a U.S. Hellfire missile, fired from a CIA-run
Predator drone, shrieked down in what was supposed to be an attack on

The Pentagon has said the missile was fired on the strength of intelligence
suggesting the men were al Qaeda leaders, feeding speculation that a tall
man among them might have been bin Laden, the elusive al Qaeda founder who
was the main target of the war launched by the Bush administration in
Afghanistan on Oct. 7. Since then, however, Defense Secretary Donald H.
Rumsfeld and other U.S. officials have said they are unsure who was hit. A
Washington Post reporter who reached the remote scene of the attack was
held at gunpoint by U.S. soldiers and prevented from entering the site. The
soldiers also barred access to the nearby village where Ahmad and the two
other men had lived.

"This is an ongoing military operation," said the soldiers' commander, who
would not identify himself, after consulting by radio with his superiors.
"If you go further, you would be shot."

"We're trying to find out what happened here, too," he added.

The uncertainty over who was killed in the missile attack illustrates the
problems facing the United States as it tries to identify and destroy the
remnants of an enemy that has slipped into the rugged hills of Afghanistan.
More than four months after the start of U.S. airstrikes, U.S. planes are
still crossing the skies and unleashing bombs and rockets. But
increasingly, Afghans in this area said, the Americans do not really know
who they are aiming at, and sometimes hit the wrong targets.

"Who are they talking to?" said Mohammed Ibrahim, governor of Khost
province, about 130 miles southeast of Kabul near the border with Pakistan.
"They aren't talking to me. They aren't talking to local people. Their
intelligence in this area is very weak."

The Hellfire missile attack was the latest incident in which U.S. forces,
acting on intelligence often provided by Afghan allies, have delivered
deadly strikes only to hear protests later that their targets were innocent.


Louis Proyect
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