A global human rights group is accusing all parties to the conflict in Afghanistan of inflicting “extensive” casualties on civilians before the U.S.-backed government in Kabul collapsed and the Islamist Taliban took power last August.
The London-based Amnesty International said Wednesday in a new report that the months leading up to the fall of Kabul were marked by “repeated war crimes and relentless bloodshed” committed by the Taliban, Afghan security forces and the U.S. military.
“Our new evidence shows that, far from the seamless transition of power that the Taliban claimed happened, the people of Afghanistan have once again paid with their lives,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary general.
“Homes, hospitals, schools and shops were turned into crime scenes as people were repeatedly killed and injured. The people of Afghanistan have suffered for too long, and victims must have access to justice and receive reparations,” she said.
Amnesty International noted in its report that during their military advances across Afghanistan in July and August, Taliban fighters tortured and killed ethnic and religious minorities, soldiers loyal to the deposed government, and people “perceived as ex-government sympathizers in reprisal attacks.”
US Air Strikes
The report documented four recent air strikes — three allegedly carried out by U.S. forces, and one by the then-Afghan Air Force that resulted in 28 civilian deaths, including women and children.
“Such strikes form a pattern of civilian harm that continued until the last moments of the conflict, when a U.S. drone strike killed 10 people, including seven children in Kabul on 29 August 2021,” the report said. “The U.S. military later admitted that those killed were civilians.”
Amnesty International called on the Taliban and the U.S. to meet their international obligations and establish “clear and robust mechanisms for civilians to request reparations for harm sustained during the conflict.”
The August 29 U.S. drone attack in the Afghan capital, the day before American troops ended their 20-year mission, was conducted in response to a suicide bombing outside Kabul’s international airport that killed nearly 200 people, including 13 U.S. service members.
Pentagon officials had acknowledged that the strike was a “tragic mistake.” An independent investigation led by the Air Force inspector general concluded the strike did not violate laws of war and was a result of “confirmation bias” rather than criminal negligence.
The U.S. military said this week it would not punish any of the personnel involved in the drone operation after Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin approved recommendations from two top commanders.
In her remarks Wednesday, Callamard, also denounced as “misguided” a recent decision by the International Criminal Court that it would focus an Afghan war crimes investigation into alleged crimes by the Taliban and Islamic State-Khorasan rather than by American or former Afghan security forces.
Callamard urged the court to follow “the evidence on all possible war crimes, no matter where it leads.”
ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan in a statement earlier this month defended the decision, arguing he had to consider his budget, the gravity of the alleged crimes and whether prosecutions could lead to a conviction. He denied bowing to any political pressure.
“I made a decision, based upon the evidence, that the worst crimes in terms of gravity and scale and extent seem to be committed by the so-called Islamic State-Khorasan and also the Taliban,” Khan told a meeting of ICC member states in The Hague on December 6.
The ICC launched a preliminary investigation in Afghanistan in 2006, and Khan’s predecessor Fatou Bensouda asked judges in 2017 to authorize a full investigation, saying there was “reasonable” suspicion of war crimes by the Taliban and the US military.
The ICC’s investigation had long upset Washington and prompted former President Donald Trump’s administration to impose sanctions on Bensouda. The Biden administration lifted those sanctions earlier this year.
The deposed Afghan government asked the court in early 2020 to halt the inquiry while Kabul conducted its own investigation into war crimes.