Most villagers held in U.S. raid released

Friday, May 31, 2002

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- Two Chinook helicopters on Thursday dropped off most of the detainees snatched in a U.S. raid on an Afghan village last week. While friends and relatives were happy to see them, they expressed anger at what they said was a misdirected operation.

U.S. officials have said the May 24 raid was based on intelligence reports that senior al-Qaida and Taliban officials were in Band Taimore, about 50 miles from the southern city of Kandahar.

One Afghan was killed in the operation, and villagers say a 3-year-old girl drowned when she hid in a well.

The choppers dropped off 50 detainees at Kandahar's soccer stadium, where thousands of people greeted them. Residents of Band Taimore said five people remained in American custody. Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed at a Pentagon news conference that 50 of the 55 people taken captive had been released. He said five who are "still of interest to us" are being retained. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said at least one has been identified as a Taliban official "below the senior level."

Released villagers said some of those still detained could have been among those injured in the raid. U.S. officials said two men were injured in the operation by about 150 U.S. troops.

"When we have buried our dead and we take these people to our homes, we will come back and try to release the rest. If we did any crime, they must punish us. If we are innocent, we will take out revenge for this insult," Amir Sayed Wali, 50, a village elder, shouted as he joined a convoy to Band Taimore.

Residents deny the U.S. intelligence reports and insist those taken away are not Taliban or al-Qaida.

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