Confirming earlier allegations that US forces were involved in the torture and extrajudicial killing of civilians in Afghanistan's Wardak province, the New York Times reported Sunday that Afghan officials are saying they have "substantial evidence of American involvement" and are pursuing the arrest of an American-born individual who they claim was a key member of a US Special Forces team that engaged in kidnappings, torture, and murder.
The accusations against Zakaria Kandahari and the assertion by Afghan officials that he and much of his unit are American are a "new turn," writes the Times, in the allegations against US Special Forces which were behind Afghan President Hamid Karzai's earlier demand for US troops to withdraw from the Wardak province.
The Times reports:
[Afghan officials] say they have testimony and documents implicating Kandahari and his unit in the killings or disappearances of 15 Afghans in Wardak. Kandahari is of Afghan descent, they say, but he was born and raised in the United States. Included in the evidence, the Afghan officials say, is a videotape of Kandahari torturing one of the 15 Afghans, a man they identified as Sayid Mohammad.
Mohammad was picked up by the unit in Wardak six months ago and has not been seen since, the officials said. The partial remains of Mohammad Qassim, another of the 15 Afghans, were found in a trash pit just outside the fence around the unit's base in the Nerkh district, according to Qassim's family and Afghan officials.
Afghan officials who have seen the videotape say that a person speaking English with an American accent can be heard supervising the torture session, which Kandahari is seen conducting.
According to investigators, the Special Forces team detained a total of 15 local Afghan civilians in "sweeps," despite families' claims that deny any association with rebel factions; 7 of those 15 "are known to have been killed" while the remaining 8 are still missing "and almost certainly dead."
US military officials told the Times their investigations turned up no evidence of wrongdoing by US troops, but Afghan officials told the newspaper that the video and other evidence strongly implicate the US forces' involvement.
The report continues:
At the center of the Afghans’ accusations is an American Special Forces A Team that had been based in the Nerkh district until recently. An A Team is an elite unit of 12 American soldiers who work with extra resources that the military calls “enablers,” making it possible for the team to have the effect of a much larger unit. Those resources can include specialized equipment, air support and Afghan partner troops or interpreters. The American official said Mr. Kandahari had been an interpreter working for the team in the Nerkh district without pay in exchange for being allowed to live on the base.
Afghan officials give a different account of his role. They say he and others working with the team wore American-style military uniforms, but had long beards and often, bizarrely, rode motorized four-wheeled bikes on hunts for insurgents. The Afghan officials said Mr. Kandahari appeared to be in a leadership position in the unit.
For additional background, reporting by Gareth Porter and Shah Noori earlier this year explored what was known about US Special Operation Forces operating in Wardak, including evidence about "rogue Afghan units" that sound very similar to the "enablers" cited by Times:
U.S. SOF units have been responsible for recruiting, training, arming and monitoring Afghan Local Police (ALP), which have committed abuses in the past. But many people in Wardak believe the armed Afghans terrorising the villages could not be ALP, because they are not from the villages themselves and in fact appear not to be from Wardak province at all.
Abdul Rahman, who commands a police checkpoint and is a village elder and district development council member in Maidan Shar district, told IPS that the armed men behind the abuses in that district are believed to be from an Afghan task force organized and supported by SOF in Kandahar and Helmand provinces.
Mohammad Jan Sarwary, a tall young man working for a mobile phone company who lives in Narkh district, told IPS the armed force that entered his village in mid-February are not local police recruited by the SOF but Afghan task forces who are staying with SOF in the base.
“The people say they are Afghans who had been trained by the Special Operations Forces,” said Sarwary. “From their dialect we believe they are from Kandahar or Helmand provinces.”
Sarwary said a relative in his village told him that the militiamen had forced one of the residents to sit on an improvised explosive device with a gun pointed at his head. They threatened that if any of the members of the force were attacked by anyone in the village, they would blow up that individual.
Another possibility, which has not been raised by Afghans, is that the “counterterrorism pursuit teams” trained by the CIA and acting outside any Afghan chain of command have been carrying out operations in Wardak.
You can read the rest of the New York Times report here.