A shocking exposé in The Intercept has revealed how CIA-backed death squads in Afghanistan killed children as young as 8 years old in a series of night raids, many targeting madrassas, Islamic religious schools.
In December 2018, one of the death squads attacked a madrassa in Wardak province, killing 12 boys, of whom the youngest was 9 years old.
The United States played key roles in many of the raids, from picking targets to ferrying Afghan forces to the sites to providing lethal airpower during the raids.
The Intercept reports this was part of a campaign of terror orchestrated by the Trump administration that included massacres, executions, mutilation, forced disappearances, attacks on medical facilities, and airstrikes targeting structures known to house civilians.
The Americans “step on all the rules of war, human rights, all the things they said they’d bring to Afghanistan,” said Wardak provincial council head Akhtar Mohammad Tahiri.
“They are “conducting themselves as terrorists. They show terror and violence and think they’ll bring control this way.”
CIA-run strike force units
“These militias … were established in the very early days of the Afghan War by CIA officers, many of whom had been brought back into the fold after the invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001 who had previously been working in Afghanistan during the 1980s,” says Intercept reporter Andrew Quilty.
“This network of militias was set up and appear to be entirely under the control of the CIA but made up entirely of Afghan soldiers.”
Known collectively as strike force units because of their targeted, aggressive methods, the shadowy CIA-backed militias nominally fall under the purview of the National Directorate of Security, or NDS, Afghanistan’s intelligence service.
They are comprised of 01, which operates primarily in central Afghan provinces including Wardak and Logar; 02, which is based in Jalalabad and works in the eastern part of the country; 03, also known as the Kandahar Strike Force, which operates in the south; and 04, which conducts raids in Kunar and adjacent provinces in the northeast.
Two units in the southeast, the Khost Protection Force and the Shaheen Forces, the latter of which emerged in the eastern Afghan province of Paktika in 2019, are believed to function under similar authority.
The units’ American CIA advisers go by pseudonyms or call signs rather than names. They not only train Afghan unit members but also choose their targets, which the Americans call “jackpots;” issue detailed pre-mission briefings; and accompany Afghan paramilitaries on the ground during raids.
The Afghans and Americans are ferried to remote villages at night by American helicopters, and American assault aircraft hover overhead while they conduct their raids, providing lethal firepower that is sometimes directed at health clinics, madrassa dormitories, or civilian homes.
The brother of two other boys killed in the madrassa vowed to retaliate against the Americans. “We are not in their country,” he told The Intercept. “They are in our country and attacking us. … I will take revenge for my brothers and all the other innocents killed.”
When Mawlawi Sadiq, the boys’ teacher, regained consciousness after fainting in the madrassa, he was at home. He was in such a poor mental state his father wouldn’t let him leave the house to attend any funeral prayers or burials.
The next day, he went to the madrassa. “There were shoes and books all over the place,” he said. “There were bullet holes inside the madrassa and also in the basement on the floors and walls. … There was blood everywhere.”