[Marxism] C.I.A.’s Afghan Forces Leave a Trail of Abuse and Anger

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Dec 31 14:41:11 MST 2018

(Counter-insurgency apparently hasn't changed much since the war in 
Vietnam. And Afghanistan will end up with the same results, a defeat for 

NY Times, Dec. 31, 2018
C.I.A.’s Afghan Forces Leave a Trail of Abuse and Anger
By Mujib Mashal

NADER SHAH KOT, Afghanistan — Razo Khan woke up suddenly to the sight of 
assault rifles pointed at his face, and demands that he get out of bed 
and onto the floor.

Within minutes, the armed raiders had separated the men from the women 
and children. Then the shooting started.

As Mr. Khan was driven away for questioning, he watched his home go up 
in flames. Within were the bodies of two of his brothers and of his 
sister-in-law Khanzari, who was shot three times in the head. Villagers 
who rushed to the home found the burned body of her 3-year-old daughter, 
Marina, in a corner of a torched bedroom.

The men who raided the family’s home that March night, in the district 
of Nader Shah Kot, were members of an Afghan strike force trained and 
overseen by the Central Intelligence Agency in a parallel mission to the 
United States military’s, but with looser rules of engagement.

Ostensibly, the force was searching for militants. But Mr. Khan and his 
family had done nothing to put themselves in the cross hairs of the 
C.I.A.-sponsored strike force, according to investigators.

It was clear that the raiding force had “committed an atrocity,” said 
Jan-mir Zazai, a member of the Khost provincial council who was part of 
the government investigating team. “Everyone we spoke to said they would 
swear on the innocence of the victims.”

At a time when the conventional Afghan military and police forces are 
being killed in record numbers across the country, the regional forces 
overseen by the C.I.A. have managed to hold the line against the most 
brutal militant groups, including the Haqqani wing of the Taliban and 
also Islamic State loyalists.

But the units have also operated unconstrained by battlefield rules 
designed to protect civilians, conducting night raids, torture and 
killings with near impunity, in a covert campaign that some Afghan and 
American officials say is undermining the wider American effort to 
strengthen Afghan institutions.

Those abuses are actively pushing people toward the Taliban, the 
officials say. And with only a relatively small American troop 
contingent left — and that perhaps set to drop further on President 
Trump’s orders — the strike forces are increasingly the way that a large 
number of rural Afghans experience the American presence.

Many of the strike forces were officially put under the control of 
Afghan intelligence starting in 2012. But senior Afghan and 
international officials say that the two most effective and ruthless 
forces, in Khost and Nangarhar Provinces, are still sponsored mainly by 
the C.I.A.

Those fighting forces, also referred to as counterterrorism pursuit 
teams, are recruited, trained and equipped by C.I.A. agents or 
contractors who work closely with them on their bases, according to 
several current and former senior Afghan security officials, and the 
members are paid nearly three times as much as regular Afghan soldiers.

The Afghan ownership of those two units is only nominal, a liaison 
relationship in which intelligence headquarters in Kabul has 
representatives on the mission for coordination. But the required 
pre-approval for raids is often last-minute, or skipped until afterward, 
the officials say.

For months, The New York Times has investigated the human toll of the 
C.I.A.-sponsored forces on communities. Times journalists researched 
frequent complaints — at times almost weekly — that these units had 
raided and killed civilians, and The Times went to the sites of half a 
dozen of their raids, often less than 24 hours after the force had left.

The investigation found details of a C.I.A. mission with tactical 
successes that have come at the cost of alienating the Afghan 
population. One former senior Afghan security official bluntly accused 
the strike forces of war crimes.

Often, the raids that resulted in civilian deaths were carried out not 
far from police outposts or government offices, leaving those 
American-supported officials humiliated in the villages they had been 
trying to establish relationships with. And because the C.I.A.-sponsored 
units often use English during operations, their abuses are even more 
directly equated with the American presence, though claims that American 
agents have sometimes been on the missions have not been confirmed.

“The dilemma is this: The C.I.A. needs to fight its wars in the 
shadows,” said Karl Eikenberry, a former commander of American forces in 
Afghanistan who later served as the United States ambassador to Kabul. 
“But 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.”

United Nations reports have expressed concern about civilian deaths and 
“consistent, credible accounts of intentional destruction of civilian 
property, illegal detention, and other abuses” by the units. The United 
Nations said the forces in Khost, in particular, operated outside the 
Afghan government’s structure “with an absence of transparency and 
ongoing impunity.”

In the village of Nader Shah Kot, the provincial official who helped 
investigate the raid, Mr. Zazai, said the force’s impunity was 
alienating residents from the government and increasing support for the 

“If there had been arrests, if there had been justice, this wouldn’t 
continue like this,” Mr. Zazai said. “But there is absolutely no justice.”

American defense officials in Washington say the C.I.A. operations in 
Afghanistan are largely opaque to military generals operating in the war 
zone. The C.I.A.’s level of partnership has been declining as the Afghan 
intelligence agency and its forces grow more mature, the officials said. 
But as American military forces are set to draw down, the role of the 
Central Intelligence Agency is only likely to grow in importance.

A spokeswoman for the C.I.A. would not comment, nor would Afghans 
directly involved with the forces. Afghan security officials in Kabul 
tried to play down the level of the forces’ autonomy and the nature of 
their abuses. When pressed with details of specific cases, they did not 

The number of casualties varied among the cases The Times investigated. 
In one, two brothers were killed as they watered their fields before 
dawn after receiving permission from the local security outpost. In 
another, a unit pursuit of a Taliban target went into the wrong house in 
Laghman Province and killed 12 civilians, officials there said.

One of the most gruesome episodes examined by The Times was in Khogyani 
District, in Nangarhar Province. The forces handcuffed and hooded two 
brothers and, after a brief interrogation as their wives and children 
watched, both men were dragged away and executed in a corner of a 
bedroom that was then detonated over their heads, according to relatives 
and villagers who pulled the bodies out of the rubble.

When Times journalists arrived at the house 16 hours after the raid, the 
area was a scene of carnage with burned vehicles and crumbled walls. The 
family’s patriarch, Hajji Hassan Jan, 60, said that a security outpost 
overlooked their house, and that the district’s intelligence chief, who 
was a regular guest for dinner, had no answer for why the house was 
raided and his sons killed.

Still, he tried to guess: It was probably for feeding the Taliban. In 
rural Afghanistan, traditions of hospitality demand that you feed 
whoever knocks at your door. When those men are armed, there is little 

“The forces once asked my son, ‘Why do you feed the Taliban — why cook 
chicken for them, or bring them yogurt?’” Mr. Jan said. “My son told 
them: ‘We made chicken for them. If you come, we will make an entire 
lamb for you.’”

Rooted in Counterterrorism

The origin of C.I.A.-sponsored strike forces in Afghanistan was in the 
early days of the American invasion in 2001, when the United States 
allied with militia forces to help topple the Taliban regime.

Once the Taliban and Al Qaeda started fleeing, often across the border 
into Pakistan, there was no organized Afghan force to create the needed 
lines of defense.

In the eastern province of Khost, largely under the influence of the 
Haqqani network, which had strong ties to Al Qaeda, the C.I.A. started 
organizing local militias into a force that could strike at insurgents 
as they tried to come in or out.

“These forces were created in border areas at first to stop Al Qaeda 
fighters,” said Ghaffar Khan, a Czechoslovakia-trained police officer 
from Soviet times whom the C.I.A. had recruited as one of the force’s 
first commanders.

It was meant to be a stopgap program. But the force proved so effective, 
even after the Taliban started coming hard at the government and the 
American presence, that it kept expanding to other parts of the country.

In Khost, the so-called protection force was consolidated and based out 
of Camp Chapman, the main C.I.A. outpost there. The unit in Khost still 
has the largest number of fighters, though the exact count is unclear: 
Officials put the number anywhere from 3,000 to over 10,000. It patrols 
border areas and also runs its own network of informants.

Commander Ghafar said he believed the forces remained necessary, 
otherwise the defense against Haqqani-run suicide bombers would buckle, 
making it easier for attackers to reach Kabul. On the other hand, he 
said, their abuses were taking a toll.

Former President Hamid Karzai spent years trying to rein in American 
forces from carrying out night raids that angered villages and set them 
against his government, only to realize that the C.I.A.’s Afghan forces 
were doing the same.

One episode in particular made Mr. Karzai furious. In 2009, the strike 
force in Kandahar tried to forcibly release one of its colleagues 
detained by the police on criminal charges. When the most senior law 
enforcement official in the province, Gen. Matiullah Qateh, resisted, he 
and several of his officers were shot dead, former and current Afghan 
officials say. The C.I.A. reluctantly surrendered the guards involved in 
the killing of the general, after the Afghan leadership threatened to 
use force.

Mr. Eikenberry, the former general and ambassador, said the 
C.I.A.-sponsored forces “which operated outside of the framework that 
governed those under sovereign control of the Afghan government” raised 
concerns from the beginning.

“But Bin Laden was not yet found, Al Qaeda was active in the border 
areas, and Afghanistan did not have forces capable of dealing with what 
was regarded as an existential threat to the U.S. So the concerns never 
led to action,” Mr. Eikenberry said. “The problem was one to be solved 
later in the campaign, so to speak. And the C.I.A. was the dominant 
voice in the chamber.”

A Surge of Abuse

Several current and former Afghan officials said that the C.I.A. still 
largely commanded the strike forces in Khost and Nangarhar, effectively 
putting the units above the law. American agents and contractors work 
closely with them on their bases, develop the targets for them, and help 
guide the operations from headquarters. And the Americans have a 
presence at bases where detainees have accused the units of torture and 
abuse, officials say.

In a period of a little over a year, human rights officials registered 
at least 15 complaints of torture by the strike force based in Nangarhar 
Province, which has roughly 1,000 fighters and is known as “02.”

At a September news conference in the city of Jalalabad, elders from 
three districts of Nangarhar said that over 100 civilians were killed by 
the 02 unit the month before. (That number could not be verified 

“Before the people start protests, before the people pick up weapons 
against the government, the government needs to rein in these kind of 
reckless operations,” said one tribal elder, Malik Zaman.

Mohammed Taher, from Khogyani District, said he and two of his brothers 
were detained in a night raid last spring. He was held for three months 
and five days, about a week of it at the air base in Nangarhar where the 
strike force is based.

“They said, ‘We will drive a tank over you if you don’t say your 
brothers are Taliban.’ I said, ‘If you have evidence that they are, show 
me,’” Mr. Taher said. “They wanted me to say all that so they could take 
a video of me saying it.”

Mr. Taher said Americans were present during the raid when he was 
detained, but he did not see Americans during the questioning and the 
torture at the base. His mistreatment stopped when he was handed over to 
the regular Afghan intelligence force, he said.

“My hands were cuffed. They punctured these veins with needles and blood 
was running,” he said.

Sabrina Hamidi, who leads the Afghan Human Rights Commission in the 
east, said that during her 13 years of work at the commission she could 
not recall a single example of access to the regional forces to examine 
accusation of abuses.

“In their operations, most of the times the harm to civilians is 
direct,” Ms. Hamidi said about the 02 unit. “When they make arrests, 
there is usually torture involved, also.”

In nearly every case examined by The Times, the victims’ families said 
they were at a loss for where to seek justice, or an explanation of why 
they had been raided. And nearly every government official in those 
areas expressed helplessness about the strike forces’ operations.

‘I Thought It Was the Caliphate’

In the Bati Kot district of Nangarhar Province, the strike forces 
conducted a raid in May, leaving their headquarters at the air base in 
Jalalabad and arriving in a convoy of several dozen vehicles at a 
village surrounded by corn fields and orange orchards.

One resident, Khoshal Khan, who works at a medical university, thought 
at first that the raid was an attack by the Islamic State.

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

The C.I.A.-sponsored force left behind torched cars and an 
explosion-crumpled home in Khogyani.CreditJim Huylebroek for The New 
York Times
Families often sleep outside because of the heat. One family patriarch, 
Mohamed Taher, in his late 50s, was shot near his bed on the roof.

When Times journalists arrived the day after the raid, the bed was 
broken, the mud roof under the bed patched with blood, just steps from 
dried tomatoes sunning on a tarp.

One of Mr. Taher’s grandsons, Sekandar, 16, was visiting from Jalalabad 
during a school break. He was sleeping in the yard and was awakened by 
gunshots, he said, spotting the light from the raiders’ laser sights 
racing around. Sekandar said the forces spoke both Pashto and English.

The strike force had climbed ladders and was on the walls of the house, 
ordering Mr. Taher’s family to come out. But Sekandar said that when 
they followed the order to come out with their hands up, one of Mr. 
Taher’s sons, Naeem Shah, was shot in his left hand. Then a grandson, 
Shaker Khan, was shot in the head.

“The women started crying. They called to be quiet, then they blew up 
the gates and came in,” Sekandar said. His account matched those of 
other family members and neighbors.

Another of Mr. Taher’s sons, Mohammed Raheem, had also been gunned down. 
The remaining men were handcuffed, and the women and children were put 
in one room.

Before the forces started leaving about two hours later, with Naeem Shah 
still wounded, the fighters warned the family not to come out for an 
hour after they had left, said Mr. Shah’s young son, Adel, 10.

“They said, ‘Don’t come out — if the airstrikes hit you, then don’t 
complain,’” said Adel, whose face had shrapnel wounds from the raid. 
While the family waited in the house, Adel’s father bled to death in the 

The district governor’s office is just 100 yards from the house, and 
there are two police outposts nearby.

Mohibullah, a relative of the dead, said that for him, there was no 
difference between the C.I.A.-sponsored force and the Islamic State if 
the result was to be attacked with no warning.

“What is the need for raiding me at night?” he said. “Send me a warrant. 
If I didn’t show up, then you can bring your tanks and fly your planes 
and destroy me.”

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