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Hague Prosecutor Seeking to Resume Afghan War Crimes Probe

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FILE - Afghan Security personnel inspect the site of truck suicide bombing in the northern Balkh province of Afghanistan, Aug. 25, 2020.

The prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in The Hague on Monday asked the tribunal for permission to resume a war crimes investigation into the actions of the Taliban and Islamic State-Khorasan in Afghanistan.

The ICC had spent 15 years investigating alleged war crimes in war-torn Afghanistan, but the probe was put on hold a year ago by the U.S.-backed Afghan government, which said it was conducting its own investigation before it fell to the Taliban last month.

FILE - International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Karim Ahmed Khan speaks during a news conference at the Ministry of Justice in the Khartoum, Sudan, Aug. 12, 2021
FILE - International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Karim Ahmed Khan speaks during a news conference at the Ministry of Justice in the Khartoum, Sudan, Aug. 12, 2021

The ICC is a court of last resort for war crimes investigations, when individual member countries are unable or unwilling to conduct their own probes. New ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said that since the internationally recognized Kabul government has fallen, there is a “significant change of circumstances.”

"After reviewing matters carefully, I have reached the conclusion that, at this time, there is no longer the prospect of genuine and effective domestic investigations ... within Afghanistan," Khan said.

The ICC judges will now consider Khan’s request. Investigators had been examining alleged crimes by all sides in the conflict, including U.S. forces, Afghan government troops and Taliban fighters.

Khan said he wants to focus his investigation on actions of the Taliban and Islamic State-Khorasan, the offshoot of the Islamic State terrorist group operating in Afghanistan, and to "deprioritize" alleged war crimes by U.S. forces.

FILE - Fatou Bensouda is seen in a courtroom of the ICC in The Hague, Netherlands, July 8, 2019.
FILE - Fatou Bensouda is seen in a courtroom of the ICC in The Hague, Netherlands, July 8, 2019.

The earlier inclusion of alleged war crimes by U.S. forces had angered the administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump, which imposed sanctions on Khan's predecessor, Fatou Bensouda, over the issue. The U.S. lifted the sanctions on Bensouda earlier this year under the administration of President Joe Biden.

The State Department on Monday acknowledged the prosecutor’s announcement.

"We were deeply concerned about the current human rights situation in Afghanistan, and that also includes allegations of atrocities, and certainly welcomed efforts to ensure accountability," State Department deputy spokesperson Jalina Porter told reporters Monday.

"We're pleased to see that the ICC prioritize its resources to focus on the gravest of allegations and atrocity crimes," she added.

Khan said his new focus of an investigation was necessary because of the "gravity, scale and continuing nature of alleged crimes by the Taliban and the Islamic State" and the need to "construct credible cases capable of being proved beyond reasonable doubt in the courtroom.”

The ICC prosecutor said one focus of a new investigation would be the deadly August 26 attack on Kabul airport, an incident claimed by IS-K, in which 13 U.S. service members and more than 100 Afghan civilians were killed.

VOA's Nike Ching contributed to this report. Some material in this report came from Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

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