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U.S. general defends Afghan-war tactics

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KABUL, Afghanistan — The top commander of the war in Afghanistan said Saturday that an even larger deployment of American forces would not have increased chances of capturing Osama bin Laden or Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.

Elsewhere, Afghan villagers challenged U.S. accounts of a firefight, claiming U.S. Special Forces soldiers killed the wrong people during a raid in which the Pentagon said a Taliban weapons cache was destroyed and about 15 people were killed.

At a news conference in Islamabad, Pakistan, Gen. Tommy Franks said the United States did not want to repeat the mistake made by the Soviets in 1979 when they sent large numbers of troops into Afghanistan, provoking widespread Afghan resistance that forced them to withdraw more than nine years later.

"The tactics in this operation were just the right tactics," Franks said. "One does not want to commit mistakes that have been committed by other people in the past. I believe one does want to cooperate with cooperative allies in pursuit of military objectives."

U.S. commandos working with anti-Taliban Afghans have been combing the rugged countryside and deep mountain caves searching for bin Laden and Omar.

In one such operation, the Pentagon said U.S. Army Special Forces raided two Taliban compounds at Hazar Qadam, about 60 miles north of Kandahar, killing about 15 people, capturing 27 and destroying a large number of weapons. One American soldier was wounded in the ankle.

However, villagers in Uruzgan province, where the raid took place, claimed Saturday that the victims were neither Taliban nor al-Qaida fighters but Afghans sent by a pro-government official to negotiate the surrender of weapons from Taliban renegades in the area.

The party of 18 men, led by Haji Sana Gul, persuaded the Taliban to hand over the weapons, according to Bari Gul, his brother. Rather than leave the area at night, Haji Sana Gul's party spent the night in a local madrassa, or Islamic school, with dozens of other people, the brother added.

However, U.S. troops swept down before dawn Thursday and killed several people in the madrassa, including Haji Sana Gul, the brother said. Two of the dead were found with their hands tied behind their backs, he said. Three more people were killed at a district building about a mile away.

Bari Gul speculated someone misled the Americans, falsely claiming he and his men were al-Qaida or Taliban. Afghans have in the past accused local leaders of misleading U.S. troops so they would kill their rivals.

In Kandahar, Yusuf Pashtun, an aide of Kandahar Gov. Gul Agha, told The Associated Press that officials from Uruzgan province said some police buildings were damaged in the raid.

U.S. and international forces should remain in Afghanistan until all al-Qaida and Taliban resistance are gone, the foreign minister said ahead of Prime Minister Hamid Karzai's first meeting with President Bush.

The close U.S. assistance is needed to secure the country, although "perhaps our enemies — those who are not happy with the present setup — they would like to use it against us," Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah said in an interview with the Associated Press.<

Enemies of the interim government, he said, including "some who have lost power" in Afghanistan and groups in the region, might try to use Karzai's close alliance with the United States to cause trouble in a country long hostile to outside meddling.

"But it will not work," Abdullah said, asserting that most Afghans are grateful to the United States for helping opposition fighters oust the Taliban, and see its commitment to rebuild "as a friendly gesture."

Abdullah would give no estimate of how long either the U.S. military — now numbering about 4,000 troops — or the international force that's expected to grow to 5,000 members, might be needed.

"The biggest challenge is security," Abdullah said. Without security provided by foreign forces and a central Afghan government, "warlordism" — the jockeying for power among regional generals and governors — might return.