US-backed Afghan paramilitary groups operating with impunity are summarily executing civilians during botched nighttime raids and are responsible for the disappearances of suspects, a rights group said yesterday.
The secretive militias, whose support from the US’ CIA is originally rooted in the Soviet-Afghan war of the 1980s, have long hunted the Taliban across Afghanistan and have seen increasing action as the war against the insurgents intensifies.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) documented 14 cases from the end of 2017 to the middle of this year in which it said CIA-backed “strike groups” committed serious abuses during night raids, such as one in the southeastern province of Paktia in which a paramilitary unit killed 11 men, including eight who were home for the Eid al-Fitr holiday.
In many cases, the raids — usually in Taliban-controlled areas — were accompanied by airstrikes that “indiscriminately or disproportionately” killed civilians, HRW said in a report.
Units sometimes detained men and did not tell families where they were being held, the group added.
Night raids, where special forces troops blast doors and rush a building under the cover of dark, are a tactic that combines surprise, overwhelming firepower and night-vision equipment to stun occupants.
“In ramping up operations against the Taliban, the CIA has enabled abusive Afghan forces to commit atrocities including extrajudicial executions and disappearances,” said Patricia Gossman, the report author and the group’s associate Asia director. “In case after case, these forces have simply shot people in their custody and consigned entire communities to the terror of abusive night raids.”
Afghan authorities and US forces have increased the use of paramilitary groups to combat a resurgent Taliban that has been hammering Afghanistan’s beleaguered national security forces.
As part of the Afghan National Directorate of Security, paramilitary forces do not fall under normal command chains and have less oversight — one diplomat referred to them as “death squads.”
Afghan militias have largely been recruited, trained, equipped and overseen by the CIA, according to the group.
The CIA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
According to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, a US government watchdog, Afghan special forces conducted 2,531 ground operations from January to September this year, more than the 2,365 operations for all of last year.
A UN report earlier this month found that an unprecedented number of civilians were killed or wounded in Afghanistan from July to September this year.
The tally — 1,174 deaths and 3,139 injured from July 1 to Sept. 30 — represents a 42 percent increase over the same period last year.
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