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Early on the morning of Sept. 2, 2010, a convoy of six vehicles crossed a remote mountain range in northern Afghanistan and began a descent through an arid gorge. Without warning, an F-16 jet fighter attacked with two bombs, followed by a U.S. helicopter gunship. Within moments, eight people from the convoy were dead.
The airstrike in Takhar province was one of thousands of "Kill/Capture" operations carried out during the last year by U.S. forces. Led by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the missions are veiled in secrecy. Military officials credit JSOC and the raids with major successes - including the death last week of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
But the results are not always so clear. Investigations into the Takhar strike have revealed evidence that contradicts the U.S. version of events, including the identity of the intended target. While the military says that a Taliban leader was among the dead, independent investigators have concluded that all those killed were civilians.
"This was a very significant figure, a very precisely targeted operation, and those who were killed, were bad guys," Gen. David Petraeus, the US commander in Afghanistan, told me.
According to a report released today after an eight-month inquiry by an independent group of researchers in Kabul, innocents were killed because of "grave flaws" in intelligence.
"The evidence that this was an entirely civilian convoy is overwhelming. [...] The findings of the investigation raise systemic concerns over the intelligence which drives this and other targeted killings in Afghanistan," the report says.
Who was killed in Takhar, and why?
Watch the clip above for the story of this controversial strike or click here to watch a preview of tonight's FRONTLINE on the U.S. "Kill/Capture" campaign.