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November 1, 2019

‘Afghan militias killing civilians with impunity’


November 1, 2019

KABUL: CIA-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 on Thursday.

The secretive militias, whose support from America’s Central Intelligence Agency continues a tradition stemming from the Soviet-Afghan war of the 1980s, have long hunted the Taliban and are seen as an important tool as the war against the insurgents intensifies. But their rough tactics have long sparked controversy across Afghanistan.

In a report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) documented 14 cases from late 2017 to mid-2019 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 holidays.

The CIA disputed the HRW report, saying many of the claims against Afghan militias were "likely false or exaggerated". In several cases, the raids -- usually in Taliban-controlled areas -- were accompanied by air strikes that "indiscriminately or disproportionately" killed civilians, HRW said, and sometimes, troops detained men and didn’t tell families where they were being held.

According to data released this week by Nato, the US conducted 1,113 air and artillery strikes in September, a big increase on previous months that came as talks between the US and the Taliban collapsed.

Night raids -- where special forces troops blast doors and rush a building under the cover of dark -- are a popular 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 HRW’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 and indiscriminate air strikes."

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.

Ostensibly part of the National Directorate of Security (NDS) but often operating almost independent of Afghan authorities, paramilitary forces do not fall under normal command chains and so have less oversight.

Speaking to HRW, one diplomat referred to them as "death squads". CIA spokesman Timothy Barrett said the clandestine agency conducts its global operations in "accordance with law and under a robust system of oversight". He blamed the Taliban for sowing misinformation and noted that the insurgents do not operate under any similar rules.

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