CIA Stories: Death Squads in Afghanistan

As the US Empire makes its major military retreat from Afghanistan, learn about the CIA forces that will be staying behind—and their disturbing 20-year track record of war crimes.

Perhaps the most notorious piece of Central Intelligence Agency history is it’s creation and management of death squads. It is most known for doing so in Latin America. This record is long, consistent, and quite disturbing; it’s an irrefutable story of CIA-directed mass murder of civilians for no other reason than to protect the rule of the rich from social movements of the poor. 

But key to the CIA’s rebranding exercise today, is the idea that their era of running death squads is a thing of the past. That was the old CIA, a different time, a complicated history. But this narrative couldn’t be more false. In this episode we’ll be talking about just one place the CIA has been running them for the last twenty years: in Afghanistan, the case study in US imperial disaster. 

While the CIA sponsored Afghan militias through the 80s, they never really left, and had already been preparing to overthrow the Taliban government using them prior to 9/11.

Handing out millions in cash, the CIA quickly had its own army in Afghanistan, which immediately played a leading role in the war.

Using them to do most of the dirty work outside of the legal boundaries of the US military, made them very valuable to the American occupation. It has always been a highly controversial policy. Even Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who himself had been on the payroll of the CIA, opposed allowing these CIA militias to exist under his new government. But a puppet president has no real power in a neo-colony of the US Empire.

The CIA created a secretive web of militias under various names, but basically established two main units. The first is called the Khost Protection Force in Northeast Afghanistan, which is fully under CIA command and is headquartered at a major CIA base. The second is the Special Forces of Afghanistan’s own intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security. They run operations in the rest of Afghanistan. While the NDS Special Forces are technically part of the Afghan military, they are trained, funded, and actually under the control of the CIA. 

Because of the secretive nature of these militia fighters, the exact size is unknown, but is estimated to be around 10,000. 

Their primary function is to conduct raids of villages where people are suspected of opposing the US occupation or being pro-Taliban. But often it’s based on totally bogus rational. For example, if the Taliban enter a village one night demanding food, and villagers provide food in fear of crossing the Taliban, they’re subject to CIA raids for the crime of “aiding terrorism.”

Now, raids of villages are pretty standard for all US and Afghan military forces. So what do they actually do that would qualify them as “death squads”?  

Because even in comparison to conventional forces, the havok and death they unleash is stunningly higher. According to the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan report in 2018, which was a year of record civilian deaths by conventional Afghan security forces, the CIA teams killed about the same number of civilians; that means as many as the Afghan Local Police, the Afghan National Police, the Afghan Army and the Afghan Air Force COMBINED. The UN report also found a much higher ratio of civilian deaths to injuries, which led them to conclude quote “high number of fatalities compared to the number of injured suggests that force was employed indiscriminately”--in particular, summary executions.

To put that into context, if the CIA militias number around 10,000, the combined Afghan security forces outnumber that by over 300,000 personnel. Basically, the Central Intelligence Agency manages to kill as many civilians as a force more than 30 times larger than it, which is itself known for widespread civilian deaths. 

Listen to Mike Pompeo, when he was Director of the CIA, explain their strategy.

Here’s what “aggressive,” “unforgiving,” and “relentless” translates to on the ground.

In Paktya, CIA forces raided the home of a village patriarch, who was also a member of the provincial peace council. He, alongside five of his family members, were all shot one-by-one, in the head. One witness testified: “A wolf from the mountains doesn’t carry out such actions. They shot them in the eyes and mouths, where the women were sitting. I can’t explain. And those young people, they were the future of Afghanistan, students at university.” 

In Khost, they raided a home and took one man for questioning; while they were torturing him outside, CIA forces executed his two brothers and sister before setting the house on fire. Inside, they left a 3-year-old girl trapped in the house, who burned alive in the blaze. 

In a Kandahar town, they took 20 men from their homes, and summarily executed ALL of them in front of the village. 

In AUgust 2019,  in Ku-lal-go village, they quote “blew open the doors of the house and shot four men in front of the rest of the family.” In another house, they fatally shot three shopkeepers and one of their guests, all of whom were home for Eid celebrations. In the third incident, they killed a religious teacher and two construction workers. One witness said: “The residents complied—there was no resistance—they were separated from other family members and taken to separate rooms and shot dead.”

In October 2018 in the Rodat district of Nangarhar, 13 civilians were executed, including a 9-year-old boy, with CIA forces shooting children as they ran to the bodies of their loved ones.

Executing children is not just a result of excessive force in attacks on suspected militants. As part of the Trump-Pompeo “relentless and unforgiving” escalation, the CIA started directly targeting children who might one day grow up to be supporters of the Taliban. 

There are several accounts of this exact scenario playing out in raids on medical clinics, adding yet another war crime to the paramiliary’s rap sheet. In one example, on July 8, 2019, CIA militia attacked a medical clinic run by a Swedish NGO, because they supposedly gave treatment to someone in the Taliban. CIA forces tied up all the clinic staff. They took 4 of the men, including the head doctor who ran the clinic, into a seperate room. In that room, 3 of the men were executed. The lead doctor was disappeared. 

Now, some CIA defenders might say, they can’t control what these Afghan fighters do! It’s the same defense they used for their death squads in Central America: we just trusted our allies and they turned out to do some heinous stuff. We didn’t know what they were really doing!

Well, they can’t use that excuse in Afghanistan. That’s because when the Khost Protection Forces or NDS Special Forces launch these murder raids, they aren’t just dropped off by American pilots and given American air support. The CIA commandos are actually on the ground with them. 

In one CIA raid in Tor Ghar, one survivor recounted “When my father opened the gate, they shot him dead. Then, they tossed a grenade, killing my mother.” While watching both his parents murdered, Khan stated that he heard men yelling in English.

Even in the mass murder of children at religious schools, multiple survivors reported there were Americans present.

In 2015, the Washington Post interviewed witnesses from 6 different massacres by the CIA paramilitary forces. In every instance, they recounted hearing English being spoken by armed men who had interpreters with them. 

The same report also interviewed former Afghan commanders in the CIA paramilitary. One said “The orders came from the Americans. They were the real bosses.” 

This pattern shows that these paramilitaries, under direct command and supervision of the CIA, carry out summary executions of civilians as a matter of routine policy. Without a doubt, earning the label of a Death Squad. 

Sadly, it doesn’t end there. The Afghan people don’t just have to worry about being shot to death by the CIA troops, but the airstrikes that come before and after the notorious raids. 

US forces are well-known for reckless massacres by air, especially in the past few years when airstrikes increased to pave their retreat in blood. But the CIA has a different level of impunity and freedom to rain hellfire on civilians with their own aerial arsenal. 

In March 2019, CIA militia was searching the village of Nasir Khil, calling in airstrikes on civilian homes. One survivor told Human Rights Watch: “The airstrikes hit two houses. A soldier of the Afghan National Army, his wife, and four children were in one of the houses. All were killed. The village doctor, his wife, and their five daughters were in the other house that was hit, and all of them died.” A total of 13 civilians were killed. 

There are countless other stories like this. Masih Mubarez, a villager in Mullah Hafiz, lost his entire family in a CIA airstrike on their home; his wife, 7 children, and 4 of his young nieces. The youngest was his 4-year-old son. Mubarez told investigators “I have lost everyone—I am alone now.”   

There is no hope for accountability for past crimes or stopping future ones, because the CIA and it’s militia forces operate in the dark, under no official chain of command, off limits to the kind of scrutiny that can be levered against conventional American-led forces. And while journalists and human rights organizations have uncovered many of the horror stories I’ve shared in this episode, we can assume that most of what they have done remains hidden away in the shadows. How many incidents have no survivors to tell the tale?

As the US withdrawal from Afghanistan begins to take shape, it’s clear the US will not really, fully leave. But perhaps the biggest remaining footprint of the US Empire will be the CIA’s death squads, which were hatched long before the US occupation, and will surely outlive it.

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One Comment

  1. Hitler hinted that the people who ran the camps for the most part would have to wind up being exterminated themselves, as they would be too damaged to bring back into normal German society, plus hushing it up. The USA on the other hand, is planning to airlift it’s killers and resettle them in the USA. My guess is they will be hot recruits for police departments. Shows how HItler did such a poor job when he just copied the Nuremburg Laws from Jim Crow, and didn’t think that he should aim the whole mechanism against his own people. A chump compared to the criminal USA.

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