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Afghanistan: Civilian killings by Aussies put NATO in dock

Afghans believe if independently probed, civilian killings by all foreign missions will get exposed

Shadi Khan Saif   | 24.11.2020
Afghanistan: Civilian killings by Aussies put NATO in dock

KABUL, Afghanistan 

Blistering revelations about Australian forces killing civilians in Afghanistan, many believe, have added to the deep-rooted resentment towards all foreign troops in the war-ridden country.

Amid historic yet stalled peace parley between the government and Taliban, the Afghans received the shocking report last week that Australian forces have killed at least 39 Afghan civilians in cold blood.

Aussies’ crime vilifies all NATO forces

The report on the killing of civilians immediately drew an outcry from rights groups and official quarters which have access to first-hand information in Afghanistan. But the grassroots voices, particularly from the affected families in the restive southern provinces, are yet to emerge due to lack of access to media in remote parts of the mountainous country as well as additional constraints the rising violence and harsh winter cause.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, a number of Afghans expressed anguish towards all Kharijites (foreigners) without distinguishing between the convicted Australian forces and the rest of 20-plus NATO countries deployed in their country since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001.

“They [foreign troops] are all the same, what do you think they came here [to Afghanistan] for? Do you think they cared for us?” asked Abdul Baqi, an elderly landmine blast victim from the Garmsir district of the southern Helmand province, while most of these blasts are blamed on the Taliban.

With a large shining white beard, deep brownish eyes, and crumbling voice, Baqi was shivering in frosty Kabul winter as he begged for livelihood on a pavement in the old Kabul bazaar area.

He claimed that a thorough investigation would expose those war crimes linked to foreign missions in the country where the NATO-led combat mission ended in 2014. Since then, most of the forces, except the US, are limited to the “train and advice mission” dubbed as Resolute Support.

Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) has also demanded all foreign missions, particularly the UK, open an independent public inquiry to investigate the alleged unlawful killings by British special forces in the war-ridden country.

It claimed in a statement that its documented reports suggest other foreign military missions too have committed violations of the international human rights law and the law of armed conflict.

“The AIHRC calls on the US, the UK and other countries with an armed presence in Afghanistan to respond to these media reports, and to investigate their forces’ participation, and leadership, of acts of violence against Afghan non-combatants, including detainees and civilians,” it said, adding in particular, the UK should open an independent public inquiry to review and investigate the allegation of unlawful killings by its special forces.


Nowhere is safe

Fleeing constant turf wars between the Afghan security forces and the Taliban in the northern Kunduz province, which often sees the US aerial engagement, Shah Wali and Aadil Shah, cousins, recently brought their families to Kabul.

The two told Anadolu Agency that with back-to-back blasts, rocket attacks, and target killings, they feel rather insecure in the otherwise perceived highly secured capital city of Kabul.

“It was better there [back in Kunduz]. At least we knew where the Taliban were attacking and the fighting was going on,” Wali said.

Kunduz has seen multiple air raids by the US and Afghan forces ending up killing civilians, he claimed. One of such horrific incidents, he added, remains the infamous aerial bombing by the US on the orders of a local German commander at an oil tanker believed to have fallen into the insurgents’ hands, killing around 100 civilians back in 2009.

“From one side, we are getting killed by the Taliban and from the other side by the foreigners,” said Shah, commenting on the killing by the Australian forces.

Probe into war crimes

For many in Afghanistan, President Donald Trump granting pardon to two US army officers accused of war crimes in Afghanistan was a setback for the peace drive.

According to the Kandahar-based civil rights activist Mohammad Ibrahim, war crimes by the Aussies and the continued blocking of the International Criminal Court’s bid to probe such war crimes in Afghanistan have not only devastated all Afghans, fueled insurgency, but also promoted the culture of impunity resulting in the unchecked killing of civilians.

"If you look at all the instances of civilian casualties in all corners of the country [Afghanistan], no one from the foreign forces, the Taliban or the Afghan forces ever get prosecuted. The human dignity is simply lost in this ruthless war in which all sides are to be blamed,” Ibrahim told Anadolu Agency.

The Taliban’s propaganda sites have been running a constant thread under the hashtag of #warcrimes to mark such suspected cases on regular basis.

Apparently, the off-and-on peace talks have failed to slow down civilian casualties in Afghanistan, the UN said earlier this month, as fresh figures suggest 5,939 civilian casualties in the country in the first nine months of this year. Some 2,117 civilians were killed and 3,822 others injured from Jan. 1 to Sept. 30, according to the UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan.

Australian authorities have recently released the probe details into the killing of at least 39 civilians by their special forces in Afghanistan. Chief of the Australian Defense Forces Gen. Angus Campbell sought an apology from the Afghans as he shared the horrifying details of the probe.

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