CIA-trained Afghan forces accused of atrocities

Updated November 01, 2019

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Abdul Jabbar, who lost four members of his family, shows the list of villagers who were killed in an air strike on Sept 19 in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.—AP
Abdul Jabbar, who lost four members of his family, shows the list of villagers who were killed in an air strike on Sept 19 in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.—AP

WASHINGTON: A US advocacy group, Human Rights Watch (HRW), accused CIA-backed Afghan paramilitaries on Thursday of committing extrajudicial executioner, orchestrating enforced disappearances and attacking medical facilities.

The hard-hitting report also details changes in the US targeting rules which, HRW says, have led to indiscriminate airstrikes being called in by these forces and causing disproportionate harm to civilians.

The report — They’ve Shot Many Like This: Abusive Night Raids by CIA-Backed Afghan Strike Forces — has also documented individual cases of abuses by CIA-backed Afghan paramilitary forces. It claims that the abuses follow set patterns,which are repeated and widespread in every province where such units operate.

Human Rights Watch claims that the 14 case studies documented in this report are “illustrative of a larger pattern of serious laws-of-war violations—some amounting to war crimes”.

The report covers the period from late 2017 to mid-2019. The report also delves into the command and control of these “strike forces”, including the role of the CIA, the US military and the lack of oversight by the Afghan government.

Author of the report Patricia Gossman claims that such actions do not only affect immediate families but have also “consigned entire communities to the terror of abusive night raids and indiscriminate airstrikes”.

The report argues that in the absence of a larger political settlement, any agreement between the US and Taliban would not end the armed conflict between the Afghan government and the Taliban, nor resolve a range of conflicts that have fuelled fighting among various Afghan factions for over four decades.

Even if there is a political settlement, “the kind of Afghan government that emerges, the structure of the country’s defence forces, and the extent to which existing militia and insurgent forces demobilise and disarm will all be critically important”, the report adds.

‘Glaring omission’

The report notes that “one glaring omission” in the peace negotiations so far has been discussion of the future of clandestine Afghan forces operating as part of the covert operations of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Afghanistan.

Such units get ground support from US special forces seconded to the CIA and air support from the US military, including intelligence and surveillance in the identification of targets.

Several US military officials have sought to retain these Afghan paramilitary forces in Afghanistan as a bulwark against Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. These troops include “Afghan strike forces who have been responsible for extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances, indiscriminate airstrikes, attacks on medical facilities, and other violations of international humanitarian law, or the laws of war,” the report claims.

Cases documented by HRW

Afghan paramilitary forces raid the home of a staff member of an Afghan NGO in March 2018. The forces arrived late at night at the family compound and separated the women from the men.

They singled out the staff member’s brother and took him to another part of the house. They shot him, leaving the body, and left with another male family member, whom the government later denied holding.

In October 2018, an Afghan paramilitary force unit raided a home in the Rodat district of Nangarhar province, shooting dead five civilian members of one family, including an elderly woman and child.

In December 2018, the Khost Protection Force fatally shot six civilians during a night search operation in Paktia province. They shot Naim Faruqi, a 60-year-old tribal elder and provincial peace council member, in the eye, and his nephew, a student in his 20s, in the mouth.

“These are not isolated cases,” the report claims. “They are illustrative of a larger pattern of serious laws-of-war violations — some amounting to war crimes — that extends to all provinces in Afghanistan where these paramilitary forces operate with impunity.”

Published in Dawn, November 1st, 2019