CIA-Backed 'Death Squads' Are Committing War Crimes in Afghanistan, Report Says

A disturbing Human Rights Watch report describes summary executions, extrajudicial killings of civilians, and attacks on medical facilities.
October 31, 2019, 12:54pm
afghanistan CIA war crimes

CIA-backed Afghan strike forces have committed war crimes during night raids targeting the Taliban, a new Human Rights Watch report alleges.

The 53-page report describes the Afghan forces committing “summary executions and other grave abuses without accountability” during 14 night raids conducted from late 2017 to mid-2019.

The abuses included extrajudicial killings of civilians, forced disappearances of detainees, and attacks on healthcare facilities that treat insurgents.


“These are not isolated cases,” said Patricia Gossman, the report’s author. “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.”

Based on dozens of interviews with residents and civilians, the report focuses on night raids by Afghan forces in areas controlled or contested by the Taliban. In these raids, the Afghan strike forces, referred to by one diplomat in the report as “death squads,” storm into domestic compounds, questioning, detaining — and sometimes summarily executing — the residents.

The report said that in many of the raids it investigated, Afghan forces had “attacked civilians because of mistaken identity, poor intelligence, or political rivalries in the locality.”

One man quoted in the report, a resident of Wardak province, told investigators that Afghan forces had killed one of his sons and detained another during a shock raid, because they had provided food to Taliban insurgents.

“The forces accused us, ‘Why are you feeding the Taliban?’” he said. “But the Taliban come asking for food. If you don’t feed them, then they harass you.”

READ: Afghan interpreters are terrified by a possible peace deal with the Taliban

In a separate raid in Paktia province in August, pro-government forces killed eight men who were visiting their families for Eid, along with three others in the same village.


Relatives told researchers that the forces had asked the men to present their ID cards. When the men complied, they were asked to come out of their rooms. “They were then separated from other family members and taken to separate rooms and later shot dead,” said one of the relatives.

The Afghan forces under scrutiny are those backed by the CIA, which has run a parallel counterterrorism operation in Afghanistan alongside the U.S. military operation. The forces are recruited, equipped, trained, and deployed under the auspices of the CIA to target insurgents from the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and ISIS.

READ: Hours after killing 48 people, the Taliban says it wants to restart peace talks

Since 2017, these forces have been able to call in airstrikes even without U.S. forces present: according to the report, the result has been an increase in the number of strikes on residential buildings that have indiscriminately or disproportionately killed Afghan civilians. In one case, an airstrike in Nangarhar killed at least 13 civilian members of two families, including several children.

An April U.N. report said that the first quarter of the year set a grim record: for the first time, more civilians had been killed by pro-government forces than by the Taliban. Last year was the deadliest on record for Afghan civilians, according to the U.N., with 3,804 people killed, including 927 children.

READ: 2018 was the deadliest year on record for Afghan civilians


In response to the Human Rights Watch report, the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, “Resolute Support,” said the war was being fought in a “complex environment,” and that the Taliban lied about civilian deaths.

“War will never be ‘immaculate’,” said the statement. “Our challenges are immense because we face enemies who do not wear uniforms, who hide among women and children, and who use lies about the death of civilians to try and check our effectiveness.”

Eager to end to the 18-year-long war, the U.S. has been attempting to strike a peace deal with the Taliban, which now controls more of the country than it has at any time since the U.S. invaded in 2001. A deal seemed close in September, but President Donald Trump called off the talks after the Taliban killed a U.S. soldier.

Cover: In this Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019, photo, Zakhiwal's uncle, Mohammad Yaqoob Malikzada shows pictures of four brothers in the back of his car, who ware killed during a raid by the Afghan soldiers trained by CIA only known as Unit 02 after an interview to the Associated Press in Jalalabad city east of Kabul, Afghanistan, Anger is mounting over the increasing numbers of civilians dying in misdirected US aerial strikes and heavy- handed tactics of CIA-trained Afghan force. Some Afghans calling for Americans to be tried in Afghan courts. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)