KABUL, Afghanistan - A United Nations rights official alleged today that foreign intelligence agents were acting with impunity in Afghanistan and have taken part in secret raids that have killed civilians.
UN envoy Philip Alston said he was aware of at least three such recent raids in the country's south and east. He said no one was taking responsibility for the killings.
He did not name a particular country, but mentioned one raid in January, in which two Afghan brothers are suspected of having been killed, that was conducted by Afghans and personnel from a U.S. special forces base in Kandahar.
He said Afghan government officials have said the victims had no connection to Taliban insurgents.
"It is absolutely unacceptable for heavily armed internationals accompanied by heavily armed Afghan forces to be wandering around conducting dangerous raids that too often result in killings without anyone taking responsibility for them," Alston told reporters.
Alston is a special rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Council on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions. He has spent 12 days traveling Afghanistan.
He said foreign intelligence agencies were operating with apparent "impunity" in certain provinces. He said such secret operations were "absolutely unacceptable."
"Based on my discussions, there is no reason to doubt that at least some of these units are led by personnel belonging to international intelligence services," he said.
"I am trying to encourage both the Americans and the Afghan government and others to take some of this seriously," Alston said.
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U.S. military officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Alston said there had also been raids in the eastern province of Nangarhar - another hotbed of the Taliban insurgency and Al Qaeda militants, where U.S. special forces and other American-led units operate.
"When the international military forces at whatever level are asked what they know about them (the raids), the answer sometimes is, 'I know nothing,' and sometimes 'It is interesting, I must inquire into it,' but usually 'Yes, it's a problem, I wish we could do something,'" Alston said.
He said so far this year, more than 500 civilians have been killed by various assailants, including Taliban militants, Afghan and foreign security forces and Afghan militiamen.
He accused Taliban and Afghan police of involvement in unlawful killings.
But he said there was no evidence that international forces commit widespread intentional killings in violation of international humanitarian law.
NATO and the U.S.-led coalition have nearly 70,000 troops fighting the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan and say they make every effort to prevent civilian casualties.
Reports of civilian deaths in military operations have reduced over the past year as foreign forces have taken more precautions in their targeting amid concern such incidents have dented public support for foreign military presence in Afghanistan. But civilians are increasingly killed in suicide bombings launched by insurgents.
Today, a suicide bomber wearing a burqa killed 12 civilians and three police at a crowded market in western province of Farah. Twenty-two people were wounded.
© 2008 Associated Press