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US Special Forces apologise for botched night raid

The first time US Special Forces came to Haji Sharabuddin's house they killed five members of his family. Today, almost two months later, they came to apologise.

Flanked by dozens of Afghan soldiers Vice Admiral William McRaven, one of America's top Special Forces officers, spent an hour at the scene of a botched night raid in south-eastern Afghanistan that saw a Special Forces team gun down an Afghan police chief, a prosecutor and three women.

"I am the commander of the men who accidentally killed your loved ones," Adm McRaven told Haji Sharabuddin. "I came here today to send my condolences to you and to your family and to your friends. I also came today to ask your forgiveness for these terrible tragedies."

It was in the same room on the night of February 11th that 25 relatives had gathered to celebrate the birth of a newborn child when the Special Forces raid took place. Nato admitted responsibility for all five deaths for the first time on Sunday night, paving the way for yesterday's visit.

Arriving in a cavalcade of 4x4s and armoured vehicles, three Afghan soldiers pinned down a sheep and held a blade to its throat in a traditional Afghan gesture seeking clemency. Then an elder summoned them inside and Adm McRaven offered his condolences.

"Sir, I know that you are a good man and that your family are good people," he said. "We did not come here to do any harm. The American soldiers came here to protect the Afghan people not to hurt them. This was a terrible mistake."

Rising from among the dozens of soldiers and family members seated on the floor, Mr Sharabuddin said he knew that "foreign troops came to Afghanistan to help us, to protect us, to bring security" and were "not here to kill the civilians."

But, he said, justice would only be served when the Americans gave up the informant whose suspect intelligence had led the Special Forces squad to raid a house full of civilians and government officials.

"We want that spy who gave the false information to the Americans," Mr Sharabuddin said.

"I don't want the spy for myself, I want him to face justice or be handed over to the commander of the [Afghan army] corps."

Commander Abdullah, a member of the provincial council of elders, warned US forces not to "accept information too readily. Because the enemies of Afghanistan are always trying to trick them this way… During the 30 years of war in Afghanistan, everyone made some enemies, and everyone is trying to get their enemies killed like this."

The botched raid became a public relations nightmare for Nato after it rejected claims in The Times last month of a cover-up. It was forced to revise its version of events as evidence accumulated contradicting its initial statement.

Nato originally said that a joint force of Afghan and Nato troops had stumbled on the bodies of three women, bound and gagged, following a firefight with militants.On Sunday, as it finally accepted responsibility for all five deaths, Afghan investigators were reported to have said that the Special Forces troops may have tampered with evidence at the scene of the raid.

Family members claimed they saw the Special Forces team dig bullets out of the dead bodies. NATO is now looking into this possibility.

But spokesman Colonel Wayne Shanks said: "To date we have not seen any evidence of or have any indications of tampering with evidence or covering up." On the subject of conducting a night raid on the basis of faulty intelligence, he said: "I can't see them not looking at all of the aspects of this particular case."

Yesterday Nato paid the family compensation, which relatives said came to $30,000.