Afghan Civilians Fear CIA-Backed Death Squads that Can Call In Airstrikes

By Alexander Rubinstein
Source

While the U.S. continues to conduct its mission of nation-building and “democracy promotion” in Afghanistan and attempts broker a peace deal between the Taliban and the government, bombing the country at unprecedented levels and being associated with de facto death squads on the ground could fuel distrust of the Americans.

NANGARHAR PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN — Elite CIA-backed special forces in Afghanistan are leaving a trail of carnage in the country. As such units do not operate under the umbrella of the Department of Defense, they have been given near-impunity despite standing accused of war crimes.

Last month, the New York Times cited “senior Afghan and international officials” who said that while most strike forces in Afghanistan have been put under the purview of Afghan intelligence since 2012, two of the most “ruthless” units are “still sponsored mainly by the CIA.”

On Friday, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism revealed that at least one of these units has the capability of calling in air strikes.

Of the two special forces units that remain primarily influenced by the CIA, the name of only one was revealed: a group called “02” in the Nangarhar Province. The name of the unit in the Khost Province was not revealed. The units are trained and equipped by CIA agents and CIA contractors, and their fighters make three times the salary of a regular Afghan soldier. The unit in Khost is believed to have between 3,000 and 10,000 fighters while 02 is believed to be about 1,000 fighters strong.

A former senior Afghan security official told the Times that the strike forces were guilty of war crimes, while the United Nations has “expressed concern” about “consistent, credible accounts of intentional destruction of civilian property, illegal detention, and other abuses.” The unnamed unit in Khost was even singled out by the UN, which said it operates “with an absence of transparency and ongoing impunity.”

Brutality worthy of ISIS

In September, elders from the three Nangarhar districts gathered for a press conference in which they claimed that 100 civilians were killed by 02 in August. Elders are putting the number of civilians slain by 02 in the following two months, September and October, at 260.

One man who spoke at the conference said he and his two brothers were detained for three months as 02 tried to force video confessions of Taliban affiliation from him with threats of driving over him with a tank. He said he was placed in handcuffs and that they used needles to puncture holes in his veins.

In one case investigated by the Times, two brothers were killed as they watered their fields. In another case, a unit pursuing an alleged Taliban member entered the wrong home and killed a dozen civilians. In yet another case, 02 placed two brothers in handcuffs and spit hoods and interrogated them in front of their wives and children. After they were done being questioned, 02 dragged the brothers away and executed them in the corner of a bedroom, and then detonated the building.

According to “several current and former Afghan officials,” Americans help the unit find targets and guide operations. Those detained by such units frequently claim they have been tortured and Afghan officials say that Americans have been present at bases during such abuses. In the Nangarhar province alone, human-rights workers registered 15 complaints of torture by 02, according to the Times.

One medical worker who lives in the Bati Kot district in Nangarhar said he initially mistook 02 for ISIS when they showed up at his village surrounded by orange orchards.

“I ran and got my weapon — I thought it was the caliphate people. I didn’t know it was the government,” Khoshal Khan said. “Then they started firing, and I heard the gate blown up. They were speaking English, also.”

Afghanistan | Nangarhar

First, one man in the village, Mohamed Taher, was shot. According to his 16-year-old grandson, Sekander, one of Taher’s sons was also shot while following orders to come out of the building with his hands up. Then, 02 shot one of the grandsons in the head. And then another one of Taher’s sons.

“The women started crying. They called to be quiet, then they blew up the gates and came in,” Sekandar told the Times.

As his father bled to death in the yard after being shot while following orders, Adel, Taher’s 10-year-old grandson, was forced to take shelter inside. “They said, ‘Don’t come out — if the airstrikes hit you, then don’t complain.’” Adel still has shrapnel wounds on his face from the raid.

A relative of some of the people killed in the raid, Mohibullah, said that he sees little difference between the Islamic State and 02, since they both attack civilians without warning.

More killing power than the Caliphate

But, as it turns out, the 02 group is far better equipped than the Caliphate ever was. That’s because they have something Daesh lacked: air support. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism found instances in which 02 raids were quickly followed by airstrikes. One man they spoke to said 16 civilians were killed in an 02 raid on his village, five of whom were family members.

“When my family members heard shots being fired outside, they went out to see what was going on and were hit by an airstrike that killed the five of them. The airstrike also destroyed part of our house,” he said. The outlet claims that 02 called in the strike.

“Numerous residents and relatives” said that one month later 02 killed 13 civilians, including four children, in a raid that included airstrikes. The Interior Ministry claimed that Islamic State fighters were killed, not civilians.

“First, they attacked us with bombs. Then they entered the living room and started to shoot around,” said one witness. “They didn’t care about who they were killing. They killed my uncle and his 9-year-old son. His wife and his other child were injured.” Another man told the outlet he lost seven family members in the raid.

Bombing and death squads a strange approach to nation-building

The CIA’s training, equipping, and support of 02 is reportedly stoking resentment of America’s 18-year occupation of the country, which has little to show in regard to net gains against the Taliban. Near the end of 2018 the Afghan government controlled the smallest amountof territory since a U.S. military watchdog — the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) — started keeping track in 2015. Meanwhile, the U.S. dropped more bombs in 2018 on Afghanistan than during any other year on SIGAR record, which goes back to 2009.

United States Air Forces Central Command Combined Air Operations Center

While the U.S. continues to conduct its mission of nation-building and “democracy promotion” in Afghanistan and attempts broker a peace deal between the Taliban and the government, bombing the country at unprecedented levels and being associated with de facto death squads on the ground could fuel distrust of the Americans.

“When the U.S. also takes on the mission of state-building, then the contradictions between the two approaches — stealth, black ops, and non-transparency vs. institution building, rule of law, and accountability — become extraordinarily difficult to resolve, and our standing as a nation suffers,” bemoaned Karl Eikenberry, a former U.S. commander in Afghanistan who later became a diplomat to the country.

Already, Afghans are beginning to suspect that the U.S. sought to prolong its occupation of their country as means of securing a position to spy on Russia, China and Iran.

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US revisits Vietnam Syndrome in Afghanistan after 17 years of war and destruction

By  Finian Cunningham
Source

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It is America’s longest war, costing huge amounts of “blood and treasure” as US leaders claim. Yet, the signs are that Washington is finally accepting a historic defeat in Afghanistan comparable to the ignominious Vietnam War.

Intensive negotiations between American officials and Taliban insurgents have produced the “biggest tangible step” towards ending the nearly 18-year war in Afghanistan, according to the New York Times.

More talks are scheduled in the coming weeks to firm up details, but already it is reported that the US is to withdraw its remaining 14,000 troops from the Central Asian country over the next year without any guarantees of reciprocation by the enemy.

That unilateral pullout is not yet officially admitted by Washington, but analysts believe the US has tacitly accepted the long-held demand by the Taliban for foreign troops to get out.

At the height of the war, US forces numbered up to 100,000 personnel. The remnant American military therefore have no way of countering the growing insurgency. Even with an additional 8,000 NATO troops and thousands of private contractors also present in Afghanistan supporting the US-backed government in Kabul, the sordid game is up.

Zalmay Khalilzad, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, during the latest round of talks held in Doha, Qatar, sought to portray an “agreed framework for a peace deal” being contingent on the Taliban delivering on three items: a ceasefire; entering into negotiations with the government in Kabul; and a vow to never allow Afghanistan to become a haven for terror groups.

But media reports cite Taliban officials as giving no firm commitment to those US demands, while it appears Washington has accepted its troops are to be repatriated regardless. In other words, the American side is looking for a face-saving, apparent bilateral “deal” when the reality is Washington knows its war is over.

Ryan Crocker, a former US ambassador to Afghanistan, puts it acerbically. Washington is only polishing the optics, while finessing “the terms of surrender.”

He compares the American withdrawal from Afghanistan to the disorderly retreat and defeat that US forces incurred at the end of the Vietnam War in the mid-1970s. “Then, as now, it was clear that by going to the table we were surrendering; we are just negotiating the terms of our surrender,” opined Crocker in the Washington Post.

The defeat of US military might in Indochina gave rise to the Vietnam Syndrome which entailed a grave loss in national confidence and international standing. The war in Afghanistan has already exceeded the duration of the Vietnam debacle by nearly eight years. While the death toll among American forces is a lot less, the financial cost of Afghanistan is potentially ruinous. Up to $2 trillion of taxpayer money is estimated to have been poured into waging war in that country, yet the strategic achievements are arguably zero.

Not only that, but the launching of “Operation Enduring Freedom” in October 2001 by the GW Bush administration was the catalyst for a global so-called “war on terror” which engulfed several countries. The total financial cost for those wars is reckoned to be around $5 trillion – or nearly a quarter of America’s spiraling national debt.

In cost of human lives, the Afghan war and its derivative “anti-terror” operations elsewhere have resulted in millions of deaths and casualties, millions of refugees and the decimation of whole nations, which have further spawned conflict and the spread of terrorism. Suicide rates and pathological self-destruction among US veterans who served in Afghanistan (and Iraq) are off the charts and will have long-term detriment on American society for generations to come.

The Afghan Syndrome is going to haunt the US for decades in the same way the Vietnam forerunner did.

What’s more despicable is the utter waste and futility. When Bush ordered the troops into Afghanistan at the end of 2001, it was supposed to be in revenge for the terror attacks on the US on September 11. Never mind that the evidence linking those attacks to Afghanistan was tenuous at best.

The Taliban regime, which had been in power from 1996, was toppled by the US. But three presidents later, the Taliban now are reckoned to control over half the territory in Afghanistan, and can carry out deadly attacks on US-backed local forces seemingly at will on a daily basis, including in the capital Kabul.

Now it seems only a matter of time until the Taliban will be back in power with the US and allied NATO forces gone.

Richard Haass, a former senior US State Department planner, commented: “The Taliban have concluded that it is only a matter of time before the United States grows weary of stationing troops in a far-off country and spending $45 billion a year on a war that cannot be won… they have little need to compromise.

The irony is that the Taliban grew out of the tribal militants that the US cultivated and armed to the teeth at the end of the 1970s when Afghanistan was governed by a Soviet-backed administration.

The American policy was gleefully calculated in Washington to give the “Soviets their Vietnam.” The proxy war was indeed a heavy loss for the Soviet Union, but in the longer-term it looks like Uncle Sam ended up getting another Vietnam in terms of creating the longest war ever for Washington, the unfolding ignominious defeat and the global blowback from Islamist terrorism it engendered.

Washington may be pretending it has reached a “framework deal for peace” in Afghanistan. But the brutal truth is Washington has lost another epic war.

The Taliban have always maintained they are not going to negotiate with the US-backed administration in Kabul, headed by President Ashraf Ghani. Like his predecessor, Hamid Karzai, the Taliban view Ghani and his government as a corrupt, venal puppet of the Americans.

The fact that the US sidelined the Kabul regime by talking directly with the Taliban is a crucial concession by Washington. By doing so, the US is effectively admitting that the insurgents are in the driving seat. All the talk out of Washington about supporting “intra-Afghani dialogue” and finding a “comprehensive peace settlement” is window-dressing rhetoric.

US President Donald Trump last month ordered about half of the American troops in Afghanistan – some 7,000 – to withdraw. Trump is said to be growing impatient with the huge financial drain of the never-ending war. His order to pull out forces before the latest round of negotiations in Qatar will have been taken by the Taliban as further proof the Americans know they are beaten.

Astoundingly, prominent voices in Washington are arguing that, in spite of the human calamity and cost of Afghanistan, US troops should remain there indefinitely. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell wants to pass legislation forbidding a withdrawal. The Washington Post’s editorial board – which reflects the foreign policy establishment view – admonished: “The Trump administration’s tentative deal with the Taliban could return Afghanistan to chaos.

Return to chaos”?

Afghanistan – known as the Graveyard of Empires – from centuries of defeating great powers is showing that the Americans are up their necks in chaos.

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