CIA-funded paramilitaries are wreaking havoc in Afghanistan.
It was in the middle of the night in December 2018 when members of the so-called Khost Protection Force (KPF) raided a home in the eastern Afghan province of Paktia and killed six people.
Among the victims were Naim Faruqi, a tribal elder and member of the local peace council, as well as his nephew, a young student. Both of them were executed by the paramilitary unit— by headshots – and this was not the first time something like this happened.
The KPF is an Afghan militia trained, equipped and funded by the CIA created in the early days of the so-called War on Terror in Afghanistan, and it regularly carries out manhunts. In many cases, the militia does not kill terrorists but rather civilians, which is particularly felt among the people of Afghanistan’s southeastern provinces of Paktia, Paktika and Khost.
The KPF is one of many CIA-backed units in Afghanistan, as a recently published Human Rights Watch report points out. In total, the report focuses on 14 different cases that took place during the last two years all over the country.
Often, the scenario is very much the same. The units raid houses in the middle of the night, sometimes assisted by US soldiers, and indiscriminately kill people. Following this, they try to erase their tracks or intimidate surviving family members.
Since Donald Trump took over the White House, CIA operations in the country increased dramatically. Additionally, the question as to what happens to these militias after a potential negotiated settlement in Afghanistan remains a mystery.
Journalists and human rights observers who have followed the issue for years are aware that these CIA-backed units mostly do not kill insurgents, but could in fact be creating new ones.
The KPF as well as the infamous 01 and 02 units, who are mainly active in the Nangarhar region and elsewhere, have built their very own terror regimes, and they know that they could get away with most, maybe even all, crimes they commit.
“We are powerless against these people. Even the Afghan president can’t do anything. These militias are solely under the control of the Americans. They can do what they want,” and other statements like these are what I most regularly heard in Khost province when I conducted research there.
“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 airstrikes,” said Patricia Gossman, Associate Asia Director and the report’s author, after speaking to three dozen witnesses of such operations.
The United Nations regularly underlines the fact that pro-government forces, like the CIA-backed militias, continue to kill civilians. Between January and September 2019, at least 484 civilians have been killed by them, according to the recent UNAMA report.
At the same time, US airstrikes have increased. As the Pentagon itself revealed recently, US forces conducted 1,113 air raids in the month of September alone, a figure which amounts to an average of 40 air raids a day.
In most cases, the victims’ identities will remain unknown. On September 18, drone strikes in Khogyani district, Nangarhar, killed more than 30 civilians. While the Americans and their Afghan allies labelled them “IS extremists”, the victims turned out to be pine-nut farmers.
A few days later, another strike in Helmand province in the country’s south targeted a group of wedding guests. Dozens of civilians were killed and injured while the Afghan government claimed to have killed alleged Al Qaeda militants.
All the civilian casualties caused by American operations that are made public need to be considered as the bare minimum of those killed. Most of the places civilians are killed are remote villages, rarely visited by journalists and human rights observers, including those from international organisations. UNAMA, for example, uses a very conservative methodology for its civilian casualty count, requiring three different sources for each single casualty. It would be an understatement to say that meeting that threshold is difficult in many regions of Afghanistan. It is of course, the perpetrators— like the paramilitary units and their US-backers— who benefiting from this state of affairs..
At the moment, most criticism in Afghanistan is aimed at the Trump administration. However, CIA operations in Afghanistan are nothing new and they have played a huge role during the administrations of both George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
In 2012 in Nangarhar US soldiers and their Afghan units attacked a village named Kala Shaikh. During the raid, they attacked the house of Abdul Hadi Mohmand, who had close ties to the local government in Jalalabad, and killed his brother and nephew.
Noor ul Hadi, Mohmand’s son, still has not forgotten the raid.
“They entered the house brutally and just started shooting. They didn’t care about whom they were killing. When we demanded an investigation, we were just fobbed off,” he said.
Though the US or the CIA won’t likely be held accountable for the killing of civilians, these deaths weigh heavy on the Afghan psyche and the memories last – and can come back to haunt anyone involved in the conflict.
Emran Feroz is an independent journalist, author and the founder of Drone Memorial, a virtual memorial for civilian drone strike victims. His work has appeared with The New York Times, Al Jazeera, The Atlantic, The Hindu, Alternet and several other media outlets. He is also a regular contributor to German-language newspapers and magazines.