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Karzai’s Ban on US Special Forces: Is It a Response to Operations of CIA Assassination Squad?

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai ordered United States special forces to leave the Maidan Wardak province after reports of units engaging in the torture and disappearing of Afghan civilians.The order came on February 24 and was immediately followed by the US military rejecting the allegations.

Leaders in the province issued the order in response to Afghans working with US special forces who were allegedly responsible for the “disappearance of at least nine men and the murder of an Afghan university student.” But, on February 25, NATO spokesman German Gen. Gunter Katz said the “International Security Assistance Force found no evidence showing foreign forces were involved in abuses. Katz “did not comment on the Afghans allegedly linked to the Americans.” He added, “We could not find evidence that would support these allegations.”

Perhaps, it is true that US-led coalition forces are not responsible for the alleged atrocities. A recent report from The New York Times cites Afghan officials, who say “Afghan irregulars who worked with elite American forces” were responsible. The officials apparently have “photos and video of the suspects” and “they are not known irregular forces, like the Afghan Local Police, a defense militia created and trained by coalition Special Forces.”  The officials believe “the suspects are part of a force whose existence has been kept secret by the Americans.”

Therefore, this should be the headline. The outrage in Afghanistan is not coming from US Special Forces. According to Afghan officials, they have uncovered some kill or capture team—an assassination or death squad.

The Times adds this is why there is confusion:

…[O]fficials at the coalition and a separate American command, United States Forces-Afghanistan, which operates many of the Special Operations units in the country, say they do not run any secret militias. “My total honest answer: We have no idea what they’re talking about,” a senior American officer said.

One possibility that would match the descriptions of attackers offered by local Afghan officials and, at the same time, exclude American military forces would be that the suspects were working with the Central Intelligence Agency, whose operatives run militias in a number of provinces. A spokesman for the CIA refused to comment on the issue.

One senior Afghan official said it was possible: Afghans, he said, make no distinction between military-type outfits. Americans with weapons, high-end gear and facial hair were “all special forces. It’s a phrase that catches all.”…

Without speculating on what CIA force or CIA-linked force this may be, revelations in the past years indicate that the CIA has a paramilitary presence in Afghanistan.

In the Afghanistan War Logs released, the incident reports mentioned “Afghan OGA” forces (other government agency or CIA). The reports covering the period from 2004 to the end of 2009 revealed instances where a heavily armed squad gunned down an Afghani civilian, who was deaf and unable to speak.

Craig Whitlock for the Washington Post reported in September 2010:

The CIA has relied on Lilley, part of a constellation of agency bases across Afghanistan, as a hub to train and deploy a well-armed 3,000-member Afghan paramilitary force collectively known as Counterterrorism Pursuit Teams. In addition to being used for surveillance, raids and combat operations in Afghanistan, the teams are crucial to the United States’ secret war in Pakistan, according to current and former US officials.

He noted, “The WikiLeaks logs reveal the existence of an “OGA compound”at Forward Operating Base Orgun-E, another US military installation in Paktika. The field reports show that casualties are common for Afghan paramilitary forces training and operating there.” It is also mentioned that for the past nine years the CIA has operated an Afghan elite commando force.

The teams described in Whitlock’s story engage in night raids, which the population of Afghanistan strongly opposes. That is why the Afghan government pushed the US to transfer control of night raids. It would not be surprising to find the CIA continues to operate covertly and engage in night raids or that it has escalated such activity since the transfer of control because US military forces are not supposed to have ultimate control of the night raids.

A former official says in Whitlock’s story, “Unlike the Afghan army, these guys are fairly well paid, very well motivated.” They are more like Blackwater private contractors or hit men.

That is a nice segue into the fact that a Defense Department official was found to have “set up a network of private contractors in Afghanistan and Pakistan to help track and kill suspected militants” in March 2010.

The Times reported:

The official, Michael D. Furlong, hired contractors from private security companies that employed former CIA and Special Forces operatives. The contractors, in turn, gathered intelligence on the whereabouts of suspected militants and the location of insurgent camps, and the information was then sent to military units and intelligence officials for possible lethal action in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the officials said.

While it has been widely reported that the CIA and the military are attacking operatives of Al Qaeda and others through unmanned, remote-controlled drone strikes, some American officials say they became troubled that Mr. Furlong seemed to be running an off-the-books spy operation. The officials say they are not sure who condoned and supervised his work.

Upon reviewing this story, one wonders: Is this unidentified force an off-the-books spy operation?

Recall, in 2009, it was revealed that Vice President Dick Cheney had a plan for the CIA to “dispatch small teams overseas to kill senior Al Qaeda.” CIA Director Leon Panetta supposedly canceled the program. What did Gen. David Petraeus do as head of the CIA? Were any programs resumed? Any new squads started with plausible deniability for Petraeus?
All of which is to suggest it is very possible that the Afghan officials have found a squad trained by the CIA that they cannot identify. The CIA could be why Karzai has banned US Special Forces. He probably wants to be informed of their activity and does not like being uninformed about secret squads killing and torturing people in his country.

Photo by Dirk Haas, Afghanistan Matters under Creative Commons license

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."