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CIA-trained Afghan Paramilitary Forces Carry Out Frequent War Crimes: Human Rights Watch

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CIA-trained Afghan Paramilitary Forces Carry Out Frequent War Crimes: Human Rights Watch

A car burned during a raid by the Khost Protection Force (one of the “death squads”) in Tani district, Khost province, Afghanistan, July 28, 2019. Click to see full-size

Afghan paramilitary forces carried out a variety of war crimes and other “grave abuses” of civilians, with the aid and after being trained by the CIA, an investigation by Human Rights Watch established.

Specific incidents that HRW has documented include:

  • In March 2018, Afghan paramilitary forces raided the home of a staff member of an Afghan nongovernmental organization (NGO). 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 3 out of 14 documented cases in the report, in which the CIA-backed Afghan strike forces committed serious abuses starting from late 2017 until mid-2019.

“In the course of researching this report, Afghan officials, civil society and human rights activists, Afghan and foreign healthcare workers, journalists, and community elders all described abusive raids and indiscriminate airstrikes as having become a daily fact of life for many communities—often with devastating consequences. Speaking to Human Rights Watch, one diplomat familiar with Afghan strike force operations referred to them as ‘death squads.’”

These include: the National Directorate of Security strike force units, the Khost Protection Force, and other counterinsurgency forces that are not under the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces chain of command.

Of course, there are circumstances reducing their guilt, since in most cases these “death squads” targeted civilians “because of mistaken identity, poor intelligence, or political rivalries in the locality.” Which is mostly absurd.

They received faulty intelligence that a household had aided Taliban or even ISIS militants, regardless if these people were under duress when they provided aid.

“In some cases, these paramilitary forces targeted medical staff working in clinics in contested or Taliban-controlled areas because they treated wounded insurgents.”

Of course, the Afghan government and military had to investigate these war crimes, but they had no mechanism, “despite years of training by the US and others.”

More than anything it expresses a lack in both the capacity and the political will to investigate incidents involving these CIA-backed paramilitary forces.

In terms of recommendations:

“All parties to the armed conflict in Afghanistan, including insurgent forces, are obligated to abide by international humanitarian law, or the laws of war. Specifically, the laws of war prohibit deliberate or indiscriminate attacks on civilians and civilian structures, including medical workers and facilities; summary executions of anyone in custody; and enforced disappearances, including secret detention.”

The US-puppet government of Afghanistan is advised to disband and disarm all of these CIA-backed and trained groups, and to begin investigations of war crimes. All civilians harmed in attacks must be compensated accordingly. What the compensation is for somebody who’s dead and has no family remains unclear.

The US government, despite training Afghanistan and others and preaching about human rights, allegedly has no clear idea what the command chain is, so there is nobody to actually claim responsibility for the atrocities. It is quite unlikely that this is accidental.

Of course, all allegations must be duly investigated, regardless if Afghan forces or US airstrikes caused the civilian casualties.

The Taliban also received some recommendations, stop getting food and aid from the local population, even through threatening them, because they simply may end up getting killed by the ones “protecting” them.

Both the US-Afghan Forces and Resolute Support, as well as the CIA provided a response to Human Rights Watch.

The response entirely denied any responsibility and shifted it on the Taliban, blaming them for all civilian casualties.

“We are fighting in a complex environment against those who intentionally kill and hide behind civilians, as well as use dishonest claims of non-combatant casualties as propaganda weapons. We hold ourselves to the highest standards of accuracy and accountability and are unceasing in our efforts to mitigate harm to non-combatants and collateral damage. We are the most precise military force in history and learn and challenge ourselves every day to improve how we fight. The Taliban cannot say the same and IS-K and al Qaeda intentionally murder noncombatants,” Resolute Support Public Affairs stated.

On the side of the CIA, it simply said that it completely supports what Resolute Support said, in addition it blamed the Taliban, because according to it there was no such thing as war crimes carried out by Afghan “death squads” trained by them.

It was all a propaganda campaign by the Taliban.

“These false narratives persist because it is beyond dispute that the Taliban is engaged in a systematic propaganda campaign against Afghan and coalition operations to undermine the local population’s confidence in its government and disparage its international partners, including the United States. Taliban media routinely highlight false claims by exaggerating civilian casualties and portraying killed or captured Taliban fighters as innocent civilians. Their strategy is to weaken the Afghan government and drive the United States out of the region by spreading misinformation.”

In addition, it provided some usual empty rhetoric:

“Unlike the Taliban, the United States is committed to the rule of law. We neither condone nor would knowingly participate in illegal activities, and we continually work with our foreign partners to promote adherence to the law. We also take extraordinary measures, beyond the minimum legal requirements, to reduce civilian casualties in armed conflict and to strengthen accountability for our actions and those of our partners.

The CIA takes allegations of human rights abuses very seriously, no matter who might have committed them or their motivation. When we receive intelligence indicating that individuals associated with a foreign liaison partner—any foreign liaison partner—have engaged in human rights abuses, we thoroughly review the available information from both clandestine and open sources to determine whether the allegations are valid.

If our review raises any concerns about the foreign partner’s conduct, we and other elements of the U.S. Government make our concerns known to the foreign partner, provide guidance and training on the applicable law and best practices, and take appropriate steps to reduce the likelihood of future abuses, including informing our oversight entities. In some cases, the U.S. Government suspends or terminates assistance to underscore the seriousness of our concerns; and in extreme cases, we have chosen to terminate our relationship with a foreign partner altogether.”

The response to the HRW investigation, in its entirety addressed none of the claims of the report, disregarded all of the recommendations and said that it was all the Taliban’s doing, the dead civilians, the destroyed homes, and everything attributed to these “death squads” never happened, they were simply trying to protect the Afghan population.

“In ramping up operations against the Taliban, the CIA has enabled abusive Afghan forces to commit atrocities including extrajudicial executions and disappearances,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director and author of the report. “In case after case, these forces have simply shot people in their custody and consigned entire communities to the terror of abusive night raids and indiscriminate airstrikes.”

“CIA-backed Afghan forces in case after case have disregarded protections to which civilians and detainees are entitled, and have committed war crimes,” Gossman said. “The US and Afghan governments should end this pathology and disband all irregular forces.”

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