Program US Heralds as Key to Afghan Stability Continues to Rely on Gang Rapes to Intimidate Locals

On Tuesday, I wrote about the disappearances, torture and murder for which the Afghan Local Police are known, comparing them to other death squad programs that the US has backed over the years in various military engagements. Sadly, there is another class of war crimes that US-trained death squads have engaged in. Rape, especially gang rape, also is a key tool employed by these groups in their efforts to intimidate local populations. (For one example, here are details of the brutal rape and murder of a group of US nuns in El Salvador in 1980, carried out by a US-trained death squad.)

Writing in the Daily Beast yesterday, Sami Yousafzai and Ron Moreau provided excruciating details on two victims of gang rapes carried out by groups in Afghan Local Police uniforms. From one of the accounts:

Seventeen-year-old Chaman Gul suffered a similar fate to that of Monizha. Relatives describe her as being a “healthy and attractive” young woman. In a phone interview with Newsweek/The Daily Beast, she described the ordeal she suffered two months ago in Aqsaee village, Darzab district, in the northern province of Jowzjan. As she, her relatives and other villagers tell it, she was brutally raped by seven men, including the local militia’s powerful commander, Murad Bai. “They broke down the door of our home and did to me, a number of times, horrible things that I can’t tell anyone or put into plain words,” she says from an undisclosed hiding place.

Other relatives and villagers confirm her account. One 60-year-old villager, who does not wish to be named for security reasons, says he watched as Bai and his men broke into Gul’s house. He says they were wearing the khaki-colored uniforms of the ALP. “They came just after noon and collectively raped her,” the villager says. “The village was so frightened no one could raise a voice against the ALP.”

Adds a close relative, who also wishes to remain anonymous: “The girl was raped for hours and was in such a terrible condition that we thought she would die.”

The family of Monizha, the victim of another attack described earlier in the article, chose to move to a refugee camp in Pakistan. In many respects, this is one of the ways that ALP “stabilize” villages in their vaunted Village Stability Operations: they strike so much fear into the local population that they remain silent or even leave the area. But the Gul family reacted differently:

Rather than quietly hiding her suffering, as most victims and their families do, Gul took her case to the district and provincial authorities—but to no avail. “I complained to everyone in the concerned departments, but no one heard my voice,” she says.

The Darzab district police chief even threw her father out of his office. “The district police chief never offered any help or sympathy,” she says. “Another senior policeman told us the commander (Murad Bai) is the darling of the Americans and no one can touch him.”

And that is the key to how these atrocities are carried out. The heads of the militias, whether they are officially within the Afghan Local Police, or supposedly unsanctioned, but wearing ALP uniforms (and I suspect in that case, these groups are more likely to be CIA-affiliated “A-teams” like the one headed by Zakarai Kandahari in my post from Tuesday), are working with the blessings of, and under the protection of, the US. The groups know that they will not be held accountable for anything they do and this unlimited power can lead to the atrocities that we have seen.

The US can not claim ignorance of these types of atrocities. In December of 2011, Human Rights Watch begged the US not to expand the Afghan Local Police program:

President Barack Obama should halt plans by the US military to expand the Afghan Local Police program until significant reforms are made in training, supervision, and accountability, Human Rights Watch said today. On December 10, 2011, the commander of US Special Operations Command, Adm. William McRaven, suggested in a media briefing that the Afghan Local Police (ALP), locally based paramilitary units, would be increased from its current strength of 9,800 to more than 30,000.

A September 2011 Human Rights Watch report,“Just Don’t Call it a Militia: Impunity, Militias, and the ‘Afghan Local Police,’” detailed abuses by the ALP and various militias created or supported by the US since the defeat of Taliban rule in 2001. The report, while acknowledging that ALP units had contributed recently to improved security in some areas, documented serious abuses by ALP and other US-backed forces in several provinces, including looting, illegal detention, beatings, killings, sexual assault, and extortion. The report also described how the establishment of the ALP had inflamed ethnic tensions in some areas.

“The Afghan Local Police needs to be fixed before it can be expanded,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of rushing to triple the size of the Afghan Local Police, the US and Afghan governments should be adopting mechanisms to ensure these forces abide by the law.”

In his written response to questions submitted in advance of his confirmation hearing last November, the US Commander in Afghanistan, Joseph Dunford, had this to say (pdf) about the ALP program:

Afghan Local Police/Village Stability Operations

The Village Stability Operations and Afghan Local Police (ALP) programs have been called critical to ISAF’s counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan.

What has been the effect of these programs on rural Afghan populations and what has been the response from the Taliban?

Successful counterinsurgencies require the involvement of local, indigenous defense forces. The program utilizes US and Coalition SOF to train Afghans in rural areas to defend their communities against threats from insurgents and militant groups. The ALP program continues to expand and gain popular support with Afghans. Both VSO and ALP have made substantial progress in protecting and mobilizing rural populations, preventing their exploitation by the insurgency, and expanding the influence of the Afghan government. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) released its annual report on the protection of civilians, which noted that ALP had improved security and kept insurgents out of ALP areas. Underscoring the effectiveness of the program, the Taliban increasingly and specifically targeted ALP for direct attacks and infiltration to weaken the program. To mitigate the risk of insider threats, SOJTF-A has taken active measures to re-validate all of the more than 17,000 ALP.

From Dunford’s comments here, one would presume that the only issue the ALP program has faced has been insider killings. Dunford outlines how he thinks that re-validating security screening will eliminate that threat. The pleas from Human Rights Watch and others to reform the ALP program back in 2011 appear to have been ignored. The US whitewashing of the atrocities in Maidan Wardak, and especially the “disappearance” of Zakaria Kandarhari shows that the US will brook no discussion of flaws in its vaunted Village Stability Operations. The documentation of ongoing gang rapes with impunity also confirms that the US has no plans to rein these groups in any time in the near future.

8 replies
  1. joanneleon says:

    I realize it’s important not to ignore these things, but some days, it’s really hard to read and know what is going on. Just imagine how hard it is to live it.

  2. Garrett says:

    On the Baghlan assassination:

    Baghlan ALP is in the Human Rights Watch report, in the chapter just after Wardak.

    To deal with militia depredations by the U.S. backed government and U.S. backed powerbrokers in Baghlan, U.S. Special Forces launched a counterforce of U.S. backed militia depradations, done under ALP title. The factional history involves gang rape on all sides.

    Not to worry, though, about the long sordid story of multiple fighting gangs in Baghlan, with an all-around U.S.-supplied impunity to it. ISAF in Baghlan just arrested some insurgents.

  3. Patty says:

    Evidently the same type of men who are raping US military women are training ALP to rape women in Afghanistan.

  4. rg says:

    Leaving aside the issue of gang rape,etc, Dunford’s description of the Village Stability Operations reminds me of NYPD’s Secure Neighborhoods program, aggressively confronting the “insurgents” and intimidating the villagers, not to mention expanding the role of the national government.

  5. Jim White says:

    @rg: “expanding the role of the national government”

    Actually, that part is a complete fiction by Dunford. Another huge issue with the ALP is that they are too independent of the national government.

  6. Garrett says:

    @Jim White:

    The Dexter Filkins Civil War article from last year has a pretty strong expression of that point:

    The militias established or tolerated by the Afghan and American governments constitute a reversal of the efforts made in the early years of the war to disarm such groups, which were blamed for destroying the country during the civil war. At the time, American officials wanted to insure that the government in Kabul had a monopoly on the use of force.

    Kunduz Province is divided into fiefdoms, each controlled by one of the new militias. In Khanabad district alone, I counted nine armed groups. Omar’s is among the biggest; another is led by a rival, on the northern bank of the Khanabad River, named Mir Alam. Like Omar, Alam was a commander during the civil war. He was a member of Jamiat-e-Islami. Alam and his men, who declined to speak to me, are said to be paid by the Afghan government.

    As in the nineties, the militias around Kunduz have begun fighting each other for territory. They also steal, tax, and rape. “I have to give ten per cent of my crops to Mir Alam’s men,” a villager named Mohammad Omar said. (He is unrelated to the militia commander.) “That is the only tax I pay. The government is not strong enough to collect taxes.” When I accompanied the warlord Omar to Jannat Bagh, one of the villages under his control, his fighters told me that Mir Alam’s men were just a few hundred yards away. “We fight them whenever they try to move into our village,” one of Omar’s men said.

    None of the militias I encountered appeared to be under any government supervision. In Aliabad, a town in the south of the province, a group of about a hundred men called the Critical Infrastructure Protection force had set up a string of checkpoints. Their commander, Amanullah Terling, another former Jamiat commander, said that his men were protecting roads and development projects. His checkpoints flew the flag of Jamiat-e-Islami. Terling’s group—like dozens of other such units around the country—is an American creation. It appears to receive lots of cash but little direct supervision. “Once a month, an American drives out here in his Humvee with a bag of money,” Terling said.

    The region Filkins is describing is the same one as in this DailyBeast article.

    Jumadin believes that the militiamen who raped his daughter are affiliated with northern strongman Mir Alam Khan, an ethnic Tajik and a former anti-Soviet commander who, like many of today’s influential powerbrokers, fought against the Taliban in late 2001 with American military and financial support and has prospered ever since. A former police chief of Baghlan province, he has built one of the largest militias in the north, including some 3,000 armed men under his command in Kunduz. Some of his men, locals say, also serve in the ALP.

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