Jerome Starkey / The Independent & Sayed Salahuddin / Reuters – 2008-05-20 09:05:23
Afghan Death Squads ‘Acting on Foreign Orders’
Jerome Starkey / The Independent
KABUL (16 May 2008) — Secret Afghan death squads are acting on the orders of foreign spies and killing civilians inside Afghanistan with impunity, a senior UN envoy has claimed. Professor Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on illegal killings, said “foreign intelligence agencies” had used illegal groups of heavily armed Afghans in raids against suspected insurgents.
He said the attacks were beyond the legitimate military chains of command, and they were “completely unacceptable” and “outside the law”.
At the end of a 12-day fact-finding mission to Afghanistan, Professor Alston said: “There have been a large number of raids for which no state or military appears to take responsibility. I have spoken with a large number of people in relation to the operation of foreign intelligence units. I don’t want to name them but they are at the most senior level of the relevant places. These forces operate with what appears to be impunity.”
Professor Alston said he knew of at least three recent raids. In one, two brothers were killed by troops operating out of an American Special Forces base in Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan. Afghan government officials admitted neither was linked to the Taliban, but no army has claimed responsibility for the raid.
Another group, known as Shaheen, operates out of Nangahar, in eastern Afghanistan, where US forces are in charge, Professor Alston said. “Essentially, they are companies of Afghans but with a handful, at most, of international people directing them. I’m not aware that they fall under any command.”
In Helmand, where most of Britain’s 7,800 troops are based, Special Forces were accused of slitting a man’s throat in a botched night raid last year. Security sources now claim the operation was mounted by a secret spy unit.
In a preliminary report, Professor Alston added: “It is absolutely unacceptable for heavily armed internationals accompanied by heavily armed Afghan forces to be wandering around conducting dangerous raids that too often result in killings without anyone taking responsibility for them.”
He refused to name the spies behind the secret units, or their nationality, but most of the provinces he identified where these raids have been mounted fall under American command. He also refused to rule out the possibility that raids may have been made in Helmand, where British troops are in command.
A Western official close to the investigation said the secret units are still known as Campaign Forces, from the time when American Special Forces and CIA spies recruited Afghan troops to help overthrow the Taliban during the US-led invasion in 2001. “The brightest, smartest guys in these militias were kept on,” the official said. “They were trained and rearmed and they are still being used.”
A British embassy spokesman in Kabul said UK officials were “examining the independent expert’s report closely”. But they refused to comment on whether MI6 was involved.
Professor Alston accused the international community, the Afghan government and the insurgents of “gratuitous civilian killing”. He attacked the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force for not keeping better records of civilian casualties, criticising it for the complex and at times deliberately “opaque” processes that stop victims’ relatives finding who raided their house or bombed their village.
“The level of complacency in response to these killings is staggeringly high,” he said. “They [international military forces] have not taken the steps which are necessary, at the political level, to ensure a degree of transparency and accountability.”
He said Nato commanders he met kept records only for the duration of their tour, in some cases just four months. Isaf officials rejected the report’s claims, insisting they are as accountable as they can be “in a very complex situation”.
Afghan police also faced strong criticism for killing civilians, and Professor Alston criticised the impunity afforded the “wealthy and the powerful” by the endemic corruption in Afghanistan’s legal system. His full report is due out by autumn.
NATO Rejects UN Report on Afghan Civilian Killings
Sayed Salahuddin / Reuters
KABUL (May 18, 2008) — NATO rejected on Sunday a report by a UN rapporteur about the number of civilian killings at the hands of the alliance-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
The U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions Philip Alston said on Thursday some 200 Afghan civilians had been killed by foreign and Afghan troops and around 300 by Taliban insurgents since the beginning of 2008.
“In summary, we find much of the substance and the overall tone of his statement inaccurate and unsubstantiated,” Mark Laity, a spokesman for NATO, told a news conference.
He did concede that civilians were mistakenly killed by foreign forces while hunting the Taliban militants, but put the number much lower than reported by Alston. “We would say it is in low double figures,” he said.
Alston said international troops and Taliban insurgents needed to do more to avoid civilian casualties or many more innocents would be killed in the ongoing conflict.
The UN rapporteur called for more accountability from the more than 55,000 foreign troops led by NATO and the US military in Afghanistan, who together with Afghan government troops are engaged in daily battles with a resurgent Taliban mainly in the south and east of the country.
Alston said he had found no evidence of intentional killing by foreign troops and particular cases were investigated to considerable lengths. But he said no international force was able or willing to provide numbers of civilians killed, the results of investigations or whether anyone had been punished.
“We … acknowledge the accountability issue is complex,” Laity said, adding NATO-led nations were accountable to the law of armed conflict and to individual contributing nations and members were investigating alleged or mistaken civilian deaths.
Editing by Charles Dick
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