An explosive new report has been released by the prominent human rights watchdog group Amnesty International on Wednesday alleging widespread war crimes committed by various parties during the final stages of the Afghan conflict just before the US initiated its hasty and chaotic withdrawal from Kabul in August.
The report documents "extensive civilian suffering" just prior to the government of President Ashraf Ghani collapsing, citing "repeated war crimes" committed by the Taliban, and also US and Afghan national forces against civilians. "Homes, hospitals, schools and shops were turned into crime scenes as people were repeatedly killed and injured," it said.
"The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan reported that 1,659 civilians were killed and another 3,524 injured in the first six months of 2021, an increase of 47% from the prior year," Amnesty documented. "Our new evidence shows that, far from the seamless transition of power that the Taliban claimed happened, the people of Afghanistan have once again paid with their lives."
During the summer-long Taliban offensive across rural parts of the country, and as the hardline Islamist group began capturing larger and larger districts as they made their way to Kabul, mass casualty crimes were reported committed against ethnic and religious minorities, including against those perceived as national government sympathizers.
According to one of the eyewitness accounts gathered by Amnesty in Bazarak town of Panjshir province:
"They kept us underground. When we were asking for medical treatment of the wounded, the Taliban were saying, 'Let them die'… There was no food and water, and no support to the wounded. They had brutal relations with us. When we were asking for water, they were saying, 'Die of thirst'." Torture and cruel and inhuman treatment of captives constitute war crimes.
While the Taliban's better known record of human rights abuses has long been scrutinized, Amnesty focuses much of its reporting on US and its allied national Afghan army partners' war crimes. The allegations come the same week the Pentagon exonerated itself from any wrongdoing over the Kabul drone strike in August which killed ten civilians, including seven children, which US officials initially lied about - claiming it was against a carefully vetted ISIS-K target. No US personnel will be punished or so much as demoted or reprimanded, after an internal Defense Department review of the deadly attack.
Despite the narrative in some media, this war ended with no easy overnight takeover or clean sweep of the country. For months the Taliban executed and tortured as they seized districts, and civilians died by the hundreds as mortars and bombs fell on densely populated towns. 2/ pic.twitter.com/YHJy7NBUIm— Brian Castner (@Brian_Castner) December 15, 2021
Amnesty documents other instances of "mistaken" US aerial attacks on civilians:
The report documents four air strikes - three most likely carried out by US forces, and one by the Afghan Air Force - in recent years. The strikes killed a total of 28 civilians (15 men, five women, and eight children), and injured another six.
The strikes generally resulted in civilian deaths because the US dropped explosive weapons in densely populated areas. Amnesty International has previously documented similar impacts of explosive weapons in numerous other conflicts, and supports a political declaration to curb their use.
Ground combat deaths involving US and Afghan national forces were also detailed, however, are believed to be less common than casualties from airstrikes.
The rights watchdog group is calling for International Criminal Court (ICC) probe into the war crimes. In the last year of the Trump administration the US was successful in quashing an ICC probe into widespread allegations of US troop misconduct in the country. Across administrations, the US has consistently maintained it alone is immune from prosecution or even investigation by the The Hague-based court.
The US-trained ANDSF lost legitimacy in the eyes of Afghan people by indiscriminately killing them through negligent and reckless attacks. "The only thing we want is for this bombing of civilians to stop,” one man told me. This should be a lesson for future US/NATO actions. 7/— Brian Castner (@Brian_Castner) December 15, 2021
"The International Criminal Court must reverse its misguided decision to deprioritize investigations into US and Afghan military operations, and instead follow the evidence on all possible war crimes, no matter where it leads," Amnesty is urging.
Of deaths at the hands of the Taliban, the report says, "The full scale of the killings nationwide still remains unknown, as the Taliban cut mobile phone service, or severely restricted internet access, in many rural areas. "