A global watchdog is calling on Afghan authorities and the U.S. military to promptly investigate allegations local forces summarily executed civilians during recent counter-Taliban operations in the southern Kandahar province.
The alleged abuses occurred from January 31 to February 1 when Afghan special forces, backed by U.S. airstrikes, undertook offensives in Maiwand and Panjwai districts, according to a Human Rights Watch report issued Wednesday.
It quoted local residents as telling the group Afghan forces opened fire on men as they attempted to flee in the Band-e Timor area, a long-time Taliban stronghold, killing about 50 insurgents and at least 20 civilians. Government forces allegedly dragged some men from their homes and shot them.
A U.S. military spokesman confirmed it partnered with Afghan Special Security Forces, or ASSF, in the operation, but said it has not received reports of civilian casualties through official sources.
"Over the course of the operation in this known Taliban safe haven eight Taliban checkpoints were removed, allowing the ASSF to clear and destroy three IED factories and four house-borne IEDs.All of those killed in the operation were identified as Taliban fighters. A number of Taliban suspects were detained, and seven kilograms of opium seized,” said Captain Tom Gresback
Regardless of how such reports are received, Greshback insisted, coalition forces assist their Afghan partners “with investigating and prosecuting, as appropriate, in Afghan courts.”
He noted that under current NATO and U.S. guidance and directives, the foreign military mission continues to provide human rights training to, and monitoring of, Afghan forces.
Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri said he was unable to offer any immediate reaction to the incident in question because he had not yet seen the report. But Waziri insisted authorities promptly and thoroughly probe all alleged cases of abuses during combat actions.
“Opposition forces often intentionally occupy positions in civilian homes or areas because they want civilian casualties to occur. However, Afghan forces take all possible precautions not to harm civilians,” Waziri told VOA.
The spokesman explained Afghan forces are operating under “clear and strict” instructions from the ministry and President Ashraf Ghani to ensure civilian protection.
A day after the Band-e-Timor operation, President Ghani praised it as a “more successful” security action, saying it killed 50 Taliban insurgents and arrested more than 30 others.
“Summarily executing people in custody, whether they are fighters or civilians, is a war crime. Only a full investigation can uncover all who may be responsible,” said Patricia Gossman, senior Afghanistan researcher at HRW. She suspected the strong Afghan security action may have been in retaliation for recent Taliban attacks in Kabul.
The insurgents claimed responsibility for plotting a gun-and-bomb raid on the city’s Intercontinental Hotel and a suicide car bomb attack against the old Afghan interior ministry building late last month. The two attacks killed around 130 people and wounded hundreds more. Most of the victims were civilians.
Rights groups routinely accuse pro-government Afghan forces of committing abuses, charges government officials deny.
Afghan civilians continue to bear the brunt of an ever intensifying conflict in the country. The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan in its annul report issued last week said conflict-related incidents caused more than 10,000 civilian casualties, including 3,500 fatalities, in 2017.