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U.S. general backs probe of reported Afghan mass graves

Gen. Tommy Franks told U.S. and coalition troops that he was proud of them.
Gen. Tommy Franks told U.S. and coalition troops that he was proud of them.  

KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- The general in charge of the U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan said Sunday he supports an investigation into allegations that hundreds of Taliban prisoners suffocated and were dumped into mass graves after surrendering to U.S.-backed forces last year.

"I think in each case the right thing to do is for people to go take a look," said Gen. Tommy Franks shortly after arriving in the Afghan capital, Kabul, "and then we'll decide what we find, and then we'll take the action that's appropriate after that.

"I don't know if [the allegations will] turn out to be true or not," he said of the reports that surfaced recently in Newsweek magazine.

The magazine reported that about 1,000 Taliban prisoners died in northern Afghanistan after they had surrendered to the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance and were in the hands of warlord Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum.

As U.S. troops engage in Operation Mountain Sweep, Gen. Tommy Franks discusses reports of a massacre. CNN's Matthew Chance reports (August 25)

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The prisoners died in cramped container trucks while being transported from their stronghold in Konduz to Sheberghan prison, west of Mazar-e Sharif, Newsweek said, citing a confidential U.N. memo.

The U.S. group Physicians for Human Rights said it had found a mass grave in Dasht-e Leili, where witnesses said the bodies of Taliban prisoners were buried.

According to Newsweek, U.S. forces likely had no advance knowledge of the killings and did not witness the prisoners being packed into unventilated trucks.

Last week, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said the United States would "look into the circumstances surrounding the events that are reported." In addition, Afghan President Hamid Karzai is investigating the allegations.

When asked whether the United States would bear legal responsibilities if its allies committed atrocities, Franks replied, "That's a policy-level issue, and I think I'll leave policy-level people to sort that out."

Franks, head of the U.S. Central Command, was spending part of Sunday consulting with Karzai and other leaders.

Franks tells troops, 'You're heroes'

Speaking briefly to a group of U.S. and coalition troops, the general praised their sacrifices.

"You bring tears to my eyes because you're wonderful. You're heroes to my country, and you're heroes to your own country," he said. "I'm proud of you. Half a world away from your home. Serving your country, serving your family, serving your friends. ... I love you.

"What a difference 10 months makes in a country like Afghanistan," Franks said. "Taliban's gone. You know they're no longer executing people in the sports stadium downtown.

"Al Qaeda can't hide here," Franks said.

The general was introduced at a news conference by Turkey's Gen. Hilmi Akin Zorlu, who directs the peacekeeping force of about 4,000 soldiers who provide security for Kabul.

"It fills me with pride to have a chance to spend some time with the troops who are doing this work in Kabul, to spend some time with the general, to congratulate him on a job well done," Franks said.

The general was asked about Taliban and al Qaeda fighters who have fled to Pakistan and nearby countries and whether the United States can succeed in capturing them.

"We're taking part in a global war on terrorism," Franks said, adding that 60,000 coalition troops were aiding the effort.

"I will tell you that the relationships that we have with the surrounding states around Afghanistan will allow us to do the work that needs to be done."

He also praised Afghanistan's progress since the Taliban regime was overthrown less than a year ago.

"Much remains to be done in the future -- I believe all of us know that --- but I think all of us have great pride in the Afghan people, great pride in the transitional administration of President Karzai," Franks said.

"The sense of stability, while not having arrived yet in Afghanistan, is moving in the right direction."

Kabul's population, now at more than 3 million people, has been inflated by displaced Afghans who have returned to the city as conditions improve, Franks said.




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