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Ghastly night raids turn into nightmares for Afghans

Afghan government vows to probe allegations of 'war crimes' committed during such night raids

Shadi Khan Saif   | 02.11.2019
Ghastly night raids turn into nightmares for Afghans

KABUL, Afghanistan

The ghastly night raids by the Kabul government’s frontline forces backed by the CIA in the fight against terrorism are living nightmares for civilians.

A number of victims recalled the horrifying moments of death and despair following one such raid this summer.

Masehur Rehman, a 38-year-old refugee laborer returned home in July from neighboring Iran, to see his entire family blown-up in one such dreadful air raid in Maidan Wardak province.

With obvious agony and powerlessness evident in his exhausted eyes, Rehman told Anadolu Agency his quest for justice continues. “I lost my whole life, my entire family, my wife, four daughters, three sons and nieces in an air raid by the security forces in July."

Rehman said residents in his village are still haunted by the memories of the dearly night raid.

All of these victims were minors, below 18 years of age, he said.

The next month, an identical air raid killed 11 civilians in Paktia province’s Zurmat district.

The victims according to local broadcaster Tolo News were identified as: Hayatullah, an employee of Ministry of Education; Mohammad Shafi, a teacher; Ansarullah, a student at Paktia University; Akhtar Mohammad, a student at Kabul University; Mohammad Asif, principal of Dawlat Khan School in Zurmat; Inam, a madrassa student, Rahmatullah, Hekmatullah and Nusratullah (who are brothers) and Fida Mohammad, Nasrullah and Fathullah, local farmers in the district.

Amid a string of such brazen night raids, Afghan intelligence chief Mohammad Masoum Stanekzai resigned in September. The decision was made in an emergency security meeting chaired by President Ashraf Ghani who ordered an investigation into an operation that left four brothers of a single family killed in Nangarhar province.

The high levels of civilian casualties from operations by the pro-government forces mainly from air and search operations have raised eye-brows across the board.

The center of criticism are the four regional special strike units 01, 02, 03 and 04 as well as the Khost Protection Force, largely recruited, trained, equipped, and overseen by the CIA often having U.S. special forces personnel deployed alongside them during kill-or-capture operations.

Product of Trump strategy

Explaining the dynamics surrounding the evident surge in such night raids, Brig. Retired Mohammad Arif, an Afghan army veteran and defense analyst, told Anadolu Agency, that this rise in violence came on the heels of U.S. President Donald Trump’s South Asia strategy announced in 2017.

"The strategy was focused [...] the aerial operations both by the U.S. and Afghan forces to force the Taliban in coming to the negotiation table,” he said.

Thousands of Afghans in affected areas such as Kunduz, Paktika, Maidan Wardak, Ghazni, Kunar and Nangarhar provinces have held multiple street protests against such deadly air and ground offensives by the government forces.

For the first time since the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan started keeping records in the war-ravaged country, the civilian casualties caused by the pro-government forces in the first quarter of 2019 surpassed those caused by the Taliban insurgents and other anti-government forces.

This UN report documented a total of 1,773 civilian casualties (581 deaths and 1,192 injured), including 582 child casualties (150 deaths and 432 injured) between Jan. 1 and March 31 this year. It said pro-government forces carried out 43 aerial operations in the first quarter of 2019 that resulted in 228 civilian casualties (145 deaths, 83 injured), with international military forces responsible for 39 of these operations resulting in 219 civilian casualties (140 deaths, 79 injured).

Top Afghan officials, including President Ghani, acknowledge potential civilian casualties in night raids, but claims these raids offer them an edge over insurgents.

High-profile targets hit

Defense Minister Assadullah Khalid told reporters in Brussels last week that often insurgents and terrorists such Al-Qaeda's head for the Indian sub-continent Asim Omar are counted as ‘civilians’.

Afghan intelligence agency claimed last month that Omar, a Pakistani citizen with Indian roots, has been killed along with six other terrorists in Helmand province on Sept. 23 in an air raid.

Human Rights Watch has documented at least 14 cases of serious abuses from late 2017 to mid-2019 committed by the Afghan forces backed by the CIA.

In a report, They’ve Shot Many Like This: Abusive Night Raids by CIA-Backed Afghan Strike Forces, it urged both Kabul and Washington to immediately disband and disarm all paramilitary forces that operate outside the ordinary military chain of command and cooperate with independent investigations of all allegations of war crimes and other human rights abuses.

According to Afghanistan's own Independent Human Rights Commission, the past six months were the deadliest months for civilians in Afghanistan with 6,487 civilians, including women and children, were killed and injured (1,611 killed and 4876 injured) during the armed conflict in the country.

The Afghan government has vowed to investigate these claims.


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