- NEW YORK (PRNewswire) --
The official story from U.S. troops in Afghanistan is that Operation Mountain
Sweep -- a weeklong hunt for Qaeda and Taliban fugitives in eastern Afghanistan
in August -- was a resounding success. But as Contributing Editor Colin
Soloway reports, U.S. Special Forces, Afghan villagers and local officials
living in or near the valley say the mission was a disaster. Witnesses
claim that American soldiers of the 82nd Airborne division succeeded mainly
in terrorizing innocent villagers, and setting back counterinsurgency and
intelligence operations in the area by at least six months.
- But officers in the 82nd insist their men did nothing
wrong. In response to queries from Newsweek, public-affairs officers even
characterized the Special Forces involved in Mountain Sweep as "prima
donnas" who were damaging the war effort by complaining to the press,
reports Soloway in the October 7 issue (on newsstands Monday, September
- Since March, some 50 soldiers from several Special Forces
A-teams have been operating in eastern Afghanistan, working to win the
villagers' trust and cooperation. Then on August 19, American commanders
sent some 600 action-hungry members of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division,
Third Battalion, charging into the area. "We just couldn't believe
they were acting that way. Every time we turned around they were doing
something stupid. We'd be like, 'Holy s--t, look at that! Can you believe
this!'" Another said: "They were acting like [Osama] bin Laden
was hiding behind every door. That just wasn't the way to be acting with
civilians." Special Forces working in the region say that since Mountain
Sweep, the stream of friendly intelligence on weapons caches, mines and
terrorist activity has dried up.
- After the mission, the two SF teams submitted an "after-action
review." Newsweek has not seen the document, but sources say it describes
in detail the problems the teams witnessed and suggests ways to avoid such
problems in the future. The report set off a storm of recriminations. Col.
James Huggins, commander of Task Force Panther, of which the Third Battalion
is a part, says every platoon and squad leader in the battalion was questioned
under oath, and their statements did not support the teams' charges. Accounts
from villagers and local officials in the area back up the Special Forces'
version of what happened on Operation Mountain Sweep. Officers involved
have been accused of leaking classified reports to Newsweek and have been
subjected to internal military investigations.