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Alizai villager who witnessed the operation
Four villagers who were present in Alizai on June 1 — each interviewed separately in person — estimated there were at least a dozen Americans and as many as 30 Afghan soldiers at Badruddin’s house, some of them in firing positions on the roof, which commanded a view of the surrounding area. “The Americans were the leaders,” said Saleh, one of the villagers who was detained. “They would tell their interpreter to tell us to move or sit or do something.”
According to Belcher, a “team-sized” element of ISAF forces was present in Alizai that day, along with about three to four times as many Afghan forces. “The operation in question was led by GIROA security forces,” he said. “Temporary detention of these individuals occurred under the authority of the proper Afghan National Security Forces personnel, in this case the provincial chief of police, provincial NDS chief and district chief of police, who were present during the operation.”
The Americans were bearded and wore U.S. military uniforms, according to villagers who were shown photos of camouflage patterns common to U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Based on the location and nature of the operations, they were likely members of ISAF’s Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force, which is responsible for training both the ALP and the Afghan special-operations forces. The Afghan commandos told Yousuf that they had come from Forward Operating Base Sharana, a large site in eastern Afghanistan that was transferred to Afghan control last fall. They had traveled by helicopter, after stopping in the Andar district center to pick up the district police chief, Lutfullah Kamran, who could provide local knowledge and represent the Afghan government.
According to the four witnesses, Kamran and the Americans jointly interrogated a number of the detained villagers. “There were two Americans looking at the photos they had brought with them,” said Saleh. According to these witnesses, the Americans recorded biometric information on some of the villagers, as is standard practice with detainees. “One had a camera, and the other had a device for fingerprints,” said Haseeb, a resident who claimed he had his picture taken by the Americans. “The collection of biometric data was done by Afghan National Security Forces, not ISAF,” said Belcher.
After entering the compound and conferring with Kamran and the Americans, Abdullah led about half his militiamen on an attack against Taliban positions in nearby Khadokhel village, the villagers said. For the rest of the afternoon, the prisoners sat in the yard and listened to the nearby gun battle and the sounds of ISAF aircraft bombarding the village. According to U.N. reports, 11 Taliban were killed in the battle. Belcher said that three members of Afghan National Security Forces, along with one ISAF soldier, were wounded and evacuated by ISAF helicopters.
When the battle ended, Abdullah returned to Alizai. The four witnesses said they saw him first go into the yard where American special forces, Afghan commandos and Kamran had set up before taking Fazaldin, Mohammad Gul, and Nasrullah — even though, under Afghan law, the ALP does not have the legal right to detain prisoners.
After witnessing the executions, the villagers in Telbeh, fearful of the militiamen, waited until nightfall to retrieve the bodies of the three men. By then, the U.S. and Afghan soldiers had left by helicopter. “His body was found in a small water drain,” said one of Fazaldin’s relatives, who buried him the next day in Alizai. “Half of his face was gone, and he had bullet holes from head to toe.”
Abdullah was unapologetic about executing the three men. “It was a raid and I caught them,” he said. “If anyone is saying these were civilians, that person is pro-Taliban, a Talib himself, or is spreading Pakistani propaganda.”
U.N. human rights unit, Afghanistan
Critics of the ALP program have argued that its short-term gains in territory will come at the expense of future stability, as armed groups proliferate outside of the state’s control. “The introduction of ALP also spawned other militias,” said Rachel Reid, a research director at the Open Society Foundations who led an investigation into the ALP program for Human Rights Watch. “Suddenly it was the ‘must have’ for every local power broker to have his own band of armed men.”
In the case of Abdullah and his men, those fears already seem to have been realized. “Our concern is armed groups operating outside of official security structures where there’s a chain of command and through which they can be held accountable,” said the U.N.’s Gagnon. “Under national and international law, the government is obliged to investigate any unlawful killing, including those committed by pro-government armed groups.”
With ISAF ending its mission this year, Afghanistan’s future remains uncertain, a fact highlighted by the controversy over the presidential election, with both candidates claiming victory — an impasse that has revived the specter of civil war. “We’re currently in a tense political standoff, and there’s an acute awareness that all sides are armed. ALP and all the other internationally backed armed groups have contributed to this state of play,” said Reid. “It’s not enough for the U.S. to point to the Afghan government and say they must rein them in. The U.S. created this force, the U.S. is paying for it, and U.S. special forces continue in places to partner with them.”
An Afghan journalist, unnamed for security reasons, contributed reporting from Andar.