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'Terrorizing the Populace': Report Finds CIA-Backed Death Squads in Afghanistan Committing War Crimes, Atrocities

"The CIA has enabled abusive Afghan forces to commit atrocities including extrajudicial executions and disappearances."

CIA-backed death squads in Afghanistan are allegedly behind mass atrocities in the country.

CIA-backed death squads in Afghanistan are allegedly behind mass atrocities in the country. (Photo: US Marine Corps/Sgt. Mark Fayloga)

CIA-backed death squads in Afghanistan have committed a number of human rights violations over the last year, a Human Rights Watch report found Thursday, and the militant groups are likely to be the lasting legacy of the U.S. war in the country. 

"These are not isolated cases."
—Patricia Grossman, Human Rights Watch

"They do counterinsurgency the old-fashioned way," tweeted Daily Beast national security reporter Spencer Ackerman, "terrorizing the populace." 

The HRW report reviewed cases of abuse from late 2017 to the middle of 2019 in Afghanistan, interviewing 39 Afghans and a number of rights groups in the country. The group found a pattern of extreme violence from the CIA-trained and backed death squads:

These strike forces have unlawfully killed civilians during night raids, forcibly disappeared detainees, and attacked healthcare facilities for allegedly treating insurgent fighters. Civilian casualties from these raids and air operations have dramatically increased in the last two years.

In a statement, HRW associate Asia director Patricia Grossman—who was the report's lead author—said that the CIA, through backing the militant groups, had "consigned entire communities to the terror of abusive night raids and indiscriminate airstrikes."

"These are not isolated cases but illustrative of a larger pattern of serious laws-of-war violations—and even war crimes—by these paramilitary forces," Grossman added.

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Among the atrocities detailed in the report are a number of mass killings. In October 2018, paramilitary forces murdered "five civilian members of one family, including an elderly woman and child" in Nangharhar province. Just two months later, in December, a group to the south in Paktia province raided a village and killed six civilians. 

CIA press secretary Timothy Barrett told The Guardian that the organization "conducts its global operations in accordance with law and under a robust system of oversight."

Survivors of CIA-backed paramilitary violence tell a different story:

According to witnesses, on 11 August this year troops from one of these CIA-backed units—which, the witnesses said, was accompanied by at least one U.S. soldier and a translator—served as judge, jury and executioner for 11 men in Kulgago village.

Four were executed in the family compound of Dr. Ulfatullah, a pharmacist who lost two sons and two cousins, and has moved his family to Kabul to campaign for justice. "The blood of our sons is still in the rooms where they were killed so it's difficult for us to live there," he told The Guardian in the Afghan capital.

John Sifton, HRW's Asia advocacy director, said in an interview with The Daily Beast's Ackerman that things don't have to be this way. 

"There isn't a rule written somewhere at Langley that says the CIA can only train and fund militias that commit atrocities," said Sifton. "The CIA could have used its funding and leverage to insist that militias working with it follow the rules of law."

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