Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Afghans allege American war crimes

In a shocking report, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting reveals that civilians in Balkh province say American soldiers beat them while their Afghan interpreters stole valuables from them. And there is already some official acknowledgment to substantiate the claims.

An official from the ISAF force acknowledged that special forces of the Afghan interior ministry mounted an operation at that time and place, adding that ISAF supplied fuel to the helicopters used in the assault.

Villagers, on the other hand, maintain that the main attackers were foreigners with American flags on their uniforms. The provincial police chief meanwhile says his units were prevented from entering the area by foreign troops.

Balkh's governor General Atta Mohamad Noor, who visited the US in 2007 (see him here at a Seattle elementary school) is outraged, but is unsure which foreign troops are responsible.

IWPR reports:

Confusion and Anger Over Balkh Raid
By Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi and Qayum Babak

MAZAR-E-SHARIF, Nov 5 (IWPR) - “It was during evening prayers when five foreign helicopters landed in our village,” recalled Mohammad Amin, a resident of Khanabad village in the Charbolak district of Balkh province.

“American troops, accompanied by their Afghan interpreters, surrounded our houses. They searched the homes of Sufi Mohammad Gul, Shah Khan, Tela Mohammad, Juma Khan, Shahabuddin, Shir Jaan, as well as mine.”

According to multiple witnesses, the alleged foreign troops, who are said to have numbered over 50, broke down doors, struck local residents, and ripped the locks off storage boxes. More than one villager claims that valuables such as gold jewelry were pocketed by the soldiers’ Afghan interpreters in the course of the operation, which reportedly occurred on October 10...

Mohammad Mihdi, spokesperson for the International Security Assistance Force, ISAF, in Mazar-e-Sharif, confirmed that a security operation had taken place in Khanabad.

“The special counter-narcotics forces of the Afghan interior ministry conducted the operation to discover drugs,” he said. “ISAF forces in Mazar-e-Sharif supplied fuel for their helicopters.”

But Lieutenant Commander Walter Matthews, spokesperson for US forces in Afghanistan, said that his office had no knowledge of the incident.

American troops in Afghanistan fall under one of at least two command structures, making it difficult at times to determine which units are responsible for a certain operation.

The 32,000 American soldiers in Afghanistan are split between ISAF – which answers to NATO – and the mainly US Coalition force – controlled by US central command. There are also American special forces operating in Afghanistan.

Provincial officials insist there was a security operation in which locals were harmed, but weren’t able to reveal the nationality of the foreign troops reported to have taken part.

Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor called the raid “a reckless operation”. “If such actions are repeated I will advise the people to attack the foreign troops with sticks and stones,” he said, although he said “it is still not clear which foreign military unit was involved in the operation”.

Balkh police chief Sardar Mohammad Sultani told IWPR that his office, too, had few details. The police should be kept abreast of military operations, he said, since they have the local knowledge necessary to make such actions a success.

“We learned about the [Khanabad] operation only when the helicopters landed,” he told IWPR. “We immediately dispatched police units to the area, but the foreigners had surrounded the village and did not allow us to approach. We had to wait for about three hours for the operation to end.”

Once the foreign troops departed and the police were able to get into the area, they rushed a wounded villager to a nearby hospital, said Sultani...

[Mohammad Naser Amini, a professor in the department of law and political science at Maulana Jalaluddin Balkhi University in Mazar-e-Sharif:]

Conducting such operations has undermined the legitimacy of the presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan. It makes people furious.” ...

The alleged Khanabad victims are demanding an apology and compensation for their losses. (link)
The incident is reminiscent of an alleged massacre by foreign and Afghan special forces in Toube, Helmand province last year.

The alleged acts would in all likelihood constitute a war crime, as the Fourth Geneva Convention (on the treatment of civilians) (Art 3) outlaws "Violence to life and person" as well as "Outrages upon personal dignity; in particular humiliating and degrading treatment."


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