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US accidentally set wanted Taliban leader free

Wednesday, 18-Dec-2002 8:40AM PST
Story from AFP
Copyright 2002 by Agence France-Presse (via ClariNet)

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WASHINGTON, Dec 18 (AFP) - Special Forces soldiers said the US military inadvertently let one of the six most wanted Taliban leaders go this summer based on flawed intelligence, The Washington Times reported Wednesday.

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The soldiers told the Times that Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani, one of the fundamentalist militia's top generals, was apprehended in late July as he left his compound west of Kandahar. He was brought to a detention center at Bagram air base for questioning but was released a few weeks later.

Two Army soldiers and a senior administration official told the daily that Osmani was released after a US intelligence report placed him in a different location following his detention. Officials said he then fled to Pakistan, where he remains.

US government spokesmen, however, expressed skepticism over the soldiers' account in correspondence to the Times.

One of the spokesmen, Colonel Roger King, said "we don't discuss specifics of persons captured, neither names nor nationalities," but added: "I will tell you that Osmani is one of those we seek."

He also quoted Lieutenant General Dan McNeill, commander of Task Force 180, the overall command in Afghanistan, as saying: "If we had captured Osmani, we would still have him."

But the soldiers, speaking on condition of anonymity, maintain their story's accuracy.

Osmani is part of a small network of former Taliban leaders attempting to assemble a guerrilla force to disrupt Afghan leader Hamid Karzai's government, according to the daily.