A reporter, Lynzy Billing, whose mother and sister were killed in Afghanistan thirty years ago, went back to the country to investigate what exactly had happened (Billing was orphaned and then adopted by a British couple), only to be overcome by the stories and eye-witness accounts she heard about special operations, CIA-backed units that went on night raids—“brutal operations designed to have resounding psychological impacts while ostensibly removing [i.e., killing] high-priority enemy targets.”
Here is one of the stories that compelled her to investigate these crimes:
“Mahzala watched as the gunmen questioned Safiullah, 28, and 20-year-old Sabir, before roughly pinning them against a courtyard wall. Then, ignoring their frantic protests of innocence, the masked men put guns to the back of her sons’ heads. One shot. Two. Then a third. Her youngest, ‘the quiet, gentle one,’ was still alive after the first bullet, Mahzala told me, so they shot him again.
Her story finished, Mahzala stared at me intently as if I could somehow explain the loss of her only family. We were in the dim confines of her home, a sliver of light leaking in from the lone window above her. She rubbed at the corner of her eyes; her forehead creased by a pulsing vein. The voices of her sons used to fill their home, she told me. She had no photos of them. No money. And there was no one who would tell her, a widow in her 50s, why these men dropped out of the sky and killed her family or acknowledge what she insisted was a terrible mistake.”
Haunted by Mahzala’s story, the reporter embarked on an investigation into these crimes (there are more heart-breaking stories in her piece)—this was an investigation that took years—culminating in a new report, documenting her findings.
Below are some highlights from the report along with my own two cents.
These special CIA-backed units were called “Zero Units.” There were four of these units in total, and the report focuses on the operations of just one of them, known as “02,” spanning over a four-year period.
The units, or at least the one that the reported focused on, comprised Afghan soldiers accompanied by “US special operations soldiers working with the CIA.” Here is what one Afghan soldier from the unit described about his experience in these raids:
“‘These deaths happened at our hands. I have participated in many raids…and there have been hundreds of raids where someone is killed and they are not Taliban or ISIS, and where no militants are present at all.’”
During the four years investigated, “at least 452 civilians were killed in 107 raids. This number is almost certainly an undercount.” This is in part because of the way in which militaries are allowed to count and categorize kills. In places like Afghanistan, where villagers and actual combatants may live side-by-side, the military can be quite lazy in their categorization of civilians versus combatants killed. Others killed, Billing notes, are often just “written off as collateral.” A’udhu Billah!
Another reason for the likely too-low civilian count is this:
“One coroner in Jalalabad described how, at times, 02 soldiers had brought bodies to the morgue themselves, dismissing the staff and using the facilities before leaving with the dead. These deaths were not allowed to be recorded by him or other staff.”
Shooting in the Dark
A significant number of raids were carried out based on “faulty intelligence by the CIA and other US intelligence-gathering services.”
Subhan Allah. This always gets me—one would think that with all of the money and resources the US has at their disposal, they would be able to get the story straight. But far too often, they seem to stumble through their “freedom wars,” rarely winning yet astonishingly still eager to undertake wars, both declared and undeclared, time and time again. I’ve discussed this problem before and, once again, it seems relevant. As Billing reports:
“Lisa Ling spent 20 years in the military and built technology that was ultimately used to process intelligence that targeted Afghans. ‘I understand very viscerally how this tech works and how people are using it,’ she said. The counterterrorism mission is essentially: “Who am I fighting, and where will I find them,” she said. But the U.S. struggled to differentiate combatants from civilians, she said, because it never understood Afghanistan.”
This time, I think I’m closer to understanding why exactly this is the case, closer to understanding why the US almost always fails to ‘get’ the people they are fighting. I think the reason is arrogance. Why even bother trying to understand those that are beneath you?
Indeed, Billing also discusses America’s history of sloppy, carnage-filled raids, dating it back to the Phoenix Program of the Vietnam War. The raids under that program killed only 3% of “full or probationary” Viet Cong members. Nonetheless, the program, she describes, served as a “blueprint” for future raids (you can read about that here, especially in Chapter Four).
It will come as little surprise to you then that “[former US Air Force intelligence analyst Daniel] Hale was convicted for disclosing classified information that nearly 90% of the people killed by U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan were not the intended targets.” We commend Hale for his bravery in speaking out.
The US’s twenty-year foray into Afghanistan created a vicious cycle of destruction. Whether the US was busy installing corrupt leaders, figuring out how to brand the war in an attempt to legitimize it (a war for women, a war [not] against opium), this new report reaffirms that seemingly every action taken by the US in Afghanistan led to deeper entrenchment and, by default, more harm for civilians. In the words of one US Army Ranger:
“You go on night raids, make more enemies, then you gotta go on more night raids for the more enemies you now have to kill.”
The Leahy Law: Convenience Human Rights
The Zero Units have been kept under wraps thanks to a legal loophole—the Leahy Law. With this law, the US military is prohibited from “providing training and equipment to foreign security forces that commit human rights abuses, but it does not apply to US intelligence agencies.”
This law plus bogus bureaucracy and nonchalance makes for a terribly grim combination which allows for selective ‘human rights.’
Despite all of this, what do we typically hear from the US?
The TaLiBAnS iS HarMINg WoMYN!
Go and tell that to all those women whose children and husbands you killed, to whom you offered little or no support after the fact. It simply makes my blood boil.
Let us never forget that so many innocent people have perished from these heinous actions; that so many lives and families were destroyed.
May Allah reward the people of Afghanistan for their steadfastness through all that they have suffered, and may He preclude us from being among the arrogant. Amin.
RELATED: Lessons from the Arrogance of Iblis