Afghan air strike that killed Tal­iban leader irks U.S. sol­diers

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Rowan Scar­bor­ough

Spe­cial-op­er­a­tions sol­diers say that if the com­mand in Afghanistan had lis­tened to them four years ago, there would have been no need for a De­cem­ber U.S. air strike that killed se­nior Tal­iban leader Mul­lah Akhtar Mo­hammed Os­mani.

He al­ready would have been locked up.

As re­ported in 2002 by The Wash­ing­ton Times, an Army Green Beret “A Team” said it cap­tured Os­mani in a vil­lage near Kan­da­har, the Tal­iban’s birth­place.

The U.S. prison at the Ba­gram mil­i­tary base north of Kabul later re­leased Os­mani, the Spe­cial Forces sol­diers said. They sus­pect Os­mani con­vinced his cap­tors that he was not a Tal­iban leader but a poor vil­lager. The sol­diers said they heard later that he crossed into Pak­istan and re­or­ga­nized his forces.

A mil­i­tary spokesman told The Times, “If we had cap­tured Os­mani, we would still have him.”

Os­mani was killed in De­cem- ber. The Com­bined Forces Com­mand in Kabul said that on Dec. 19 Os­mani was iden­ti­fied, based on intelligence re­ports, as rid­ing in a ve­hi­cle near the Pak­istan border in a de­serted area. An air strike killed him and two uniden­ti­fied com­pan­ions.

“Os­mani was in the top ring of the Tal­iban lead­er­ship, and he was also a close as­so­ci­ate of Osama bin Laden and [anti-U.S. war­lord] Gul­bud­din Hek­matyr,” said Col. Tom Collins, a com­mand spokesman. “His death is a ma­jor achieve­ment in the fight against ex­trem­ists and their ter­ror­ist net­works.”

Os­mani had helped lead a Tal­iban resur­gence in 2006 that saw the rad­i­cal Is­lamic move­ment re­cap­ture towns in south­ern Afghanistan, com­mit a string of atroc­i­ties and ramp up am- bushes of NATO troops.

The com­mand said Os­mani ran the Tal­iban’s mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions in Kan­da­har and other south­ern towns. His leader, Mul­lah Mo­hammed Omar, re­mains at large.

Sol­diers on the A Team in 2002 said Os­mani should never have had the sec­ond chance to re­or­ga­nize the Tal­iban.

“We may never find out what re­ally hap­pened to him and if he was re­ally let go by mis­take, or some­thing else, but it would have saved many, many lives, Afghan and Amer­i­can, if Os­mani had been locked up or killed in ‘02,” said a Spe­cial Forces sol­dier who was in Afghanistan at the time.

The sol­diers told The Times that in July 2002 they re­ceived intelligence from lo­cals that Os- mani was stay­ing in a com­pound in the vil­lage of San­gin. The sol­diers said that U.S. mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions had slowed by then and that some ex-Tal­iban felt rea­son­ably se­cure liv­ing in small vil­lages.

While his com­pound was un­der sur­veil­lance, a man match­ing Os­mani’s de­scrip­tion emerged to at­tend morn­ing prayers, the sol­diers said. The man was stopped at gun­point and searched. He had an old Tal­iban ID card with the name “Os­mani,” they said, and scars on his chest that matched an intelligence profile.

The sol­diers said they took the man by truck to Kan­da­har, from where he was flown to the prison in Ba­gram. Weeks later, they said, they heard he had been re­leased.

A De­fense Intelligence Agency spokesman said, “The DIA has no knowl­edge that Mul­lah Akhtar Mo­hammed Os­mani was ever in U.S. cus­tody in Afghanistan. Given Os­mani’s high profile and our in­ter­est in de­tain­ing him, misiden­ti­fi­ca­tion by ex­pe­ri­enced per­son­nel is un­likely.”

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