Messed Up Things That Happened During The War In Afghanistan

The War in Afghanistan began in 2001 following the September 11 attacks as part of the United States' War on Terror. The US invaded hard, hitting with a heavy hand. As war typically goes, many people died. US soldiers, Afghan forces, the Taliban, and allied forces all took part in the war effort from two sides. No one seemed to be safe in the area. Targets one wouldn't expect to be attacked were attacked. Civilians died in numbers no one wants to read. Alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity set the tone from the beginning of the war to the present day.

The whole affair is a sad story for everyone involved. Accounts of messed up things are plentiful in the region, and the conflict's history is dotted with corruption and painted with long strokes of administrative dysfunction in ways that might make you think about the War in Afghanistan in a different light.

CIA-trained Afghan troops were responsible for civilian deaths

The United States Central Intelligence Agency has a track record of training foreign troops aligned with US interests. They did so with Bolivian soldiers who were fighting against Cuban insurgents in the '60s, leading to Che Guevara's death, for example. In more recent history, the CIA trained Afghan special forces who were fighting against the Taliban and other organizations alongside the US. According to an NBC breakdown of a report conducted by Human Rights Watch, these troops don't always operate within the laws of war.

The breakdown details an instance when these Afghan special forces broke into a private residence and executed four brothers while claiming to be hunting Islamic State militants. One of the brothers was a schoolteacher, and another worked as an assistant for Afghanistan's parliament. On a different occasion, these forces pulled a similar move that resulted in the unwarranted execution of four people who were visiting home for the holidays. Still another time, they killed two construction workers and a religious teacher.

The report referenced claims that CIA-trained Afghan troops have been running up the numbers of civilian casualties and perpetuating the old CIA trope of making people disappear without a trace. In case you didn't know, these acts outright violate international humanitarian law and are considered war crimes.

President Trump pardoned troops who were being prosecuted for war crimes

Sticking with the troops takes on a whole new meaning if they've been accused of war crimes and even more so if they've been convicted. It's not really something anyone in their right mind would support, but US president Donald Trump did it, anyway. And he's done it on more than one occasion.

President Trump pardoned two people in November 2019. One was a former Green Beret, Major Mathew Golsteyn, who was awaiting trial after being accused of killing an Afghan bomb-maker. For those who don't know, you aren't supposed to kill people who aren't actively violent at the time you're arresting them. The other person pardoned was Lieutenant Clint Lorance. Lorance wasn't just accused of a crime — he was actually convicted. In 2012, Lorance ordered his men to open fire at three Afghan citizens, two of whom were killed, all of whom were unarmed. This, in official military talk, is a "big no-no."

To add insult to questionability, President Trump ordered that a convicted former Navy SEAL, Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Edward Gallagher, be given a promotion, according to The Guardian. This officer had been found guilty of posing with a dead captive for a disgustingly immoral glamour shot and had his rank officially downgraded. The promotion reinstated his former rank.

The Taliban killed three civilians two days after agreeing to a partial truce with the US

Early in 2020, the United States and the Taliban had agreed to a partial truce that was meant to encourage peace talks between the Afghan government and the insurgents. The truce included a temporary "reduction in violence" that was supposed to last for seven days, thrown in for free by the Taliban as a sign of good faith. That's not very long, but something is better than nothing. On the United States' side of the agreement, US forces were to begin pulling out of Afghanistan, completing their withdrawal within 14 months. All of this happened on Saturday, February 29. The reduction in violence didn't make it through Monday.

The Taliban announced that the truce was over two days after it had been signed because the United States had basically put words in the Afghan government's mouth. The US had offered the release of 5,000 prisoners who weren't theirs to offer before the official negotiations were set to begin. According to The Guardian, the Afghan government made a public statement saying they'd never agreed to such a thing. The Taliban responded by setting off a motorcycle bomb at a soccer game that killed three people and injured 11.

The arrest of Ahmed Khan

The arrest of Ahmed Khan was a real "shoot first, ask questions later" situation, something you're not supposed to do during an arrest. Especially with helicopters. Helicopters that are firing machine guns. But, according to Human Rights Watch, that's exactly how eyewitnesses say the situation played out.

One night in July 2002, Ahmed Khan and his family were in bed for the night, though the family says they weren't asleep when the "arrest" took place. It was a calm night, and all was quiet in the house until bullets began to spray through the walls. The Khan family pressed themselves against the floor and, one can presume, hoped not to be killed. The gunfire put holes in the walls and shattered the windows. When the shooting finally stopped, US forces arrested Ahmed Khan and his two sons.

The aftermath left the house fairly wrecked, with bullet casings littering the yard. No one in the family was killed in the attack, but there was one casualty and one injury, neither of which were people within the house. A farmer in a nearby field who was sleeping next to his harvest was killed, and a woman suffered non-serious bullet wound. Since the Khan family was later released, the charges probably didn't warrant a full-frontal assault.

The Obama administration looked the other way on corruption

Corruption seems to be a major theme in the War in Afghanistan. The United States funneled ridiculous amounts of cash, billions of dollars, into Afghanistan to support the war effort during the Obama administration, and all the while, they promised the public that they'd be cracking down on the corruption that infected the country. According to The Washington Post, this wasn't the case. They argue that the US did the exact opposite and looked the other way while thieves were thieving, drug dealers were running narcotics, and warlords were participating in illegal activities. Why? Well, they were on the United States' side of course, and confronting the corruption could have alienated allies during wartime.

WaPo claims the United States funneled cash in to directly pay warlords and government officials for both loyalty and information. Human Rights Watch states that corrupt officials directly influenced the conduct of US forces, citing numerous complaints of US troops being fed false information that caused them to be unknowing participants in local rivalries. They go on to say the United States' presence was unwittingly leveraged for extortion of funds from local populations. Other forms of corruption common in the area included young boys being abused and enslaved by Afghan officials, according to NPR.

The CIA illegally held people in secret prisons

When we think of the covert ops, the spies, and the espionage that go hand in hand with the CIA's dramatic renderings in the cinematic realms of Hollywood, it makes accepting the real-life actions of the intelligence agency seem a little less outlandish. There's a problem, though. Where movie CIA may get away with illegal actions, the world of the true-true isn't so approving when real citizens go missing or when human rights are violated. The CIA's illegal prisons during the War in Afghanistan fall into that mess.

According to Reuters, the CIA hosted illegal prisons in various countries — some in Lithuania, others in Romania, and one in Poland. Both Lithuania and Romania made great choices for any prison that may have wanted to break international human rights law, since both countries were already at odds with the European Human Rights Convention (EHRC). That's the thing that says European countries can't torture prisoners or engage in otherwise crappy behavior that would be cruel to use against human beings. The European Court of Human Rights declared that two prisons, one in Lithuania and one in Romania, had broken the EHRC, which means they had to have committed some sort of abhorrent atrocities against prisoners. Both prisons have been closed since the mid-2000s.

Russia may have put out bounties on US troops

It's possible that Russia may have put bounties out on United States soldiers in Afghanistan, though there seem to be two sides to this argument, depending on what source you look at. The news came to light after President Donald Trump announced earlier this year that he'd be pulling troops out of the country by 2021, which, in itself, might be problematic for entirely unrelated reasons.

According to The New York Times, one middleman for the bounty scheme had been arrested following an investigation by US intelligence agencies. The man, Rahmatullah Azizi, established a relationship with Russian intelligence and was somehow making it rich. They go on to say that Azizi was bringing in money from Russia and relaying it to the Taliban and their allied forces when they took down American soldiers. When his home was raided, roughly $500,000 was found within.

Not all of the US intelligence agencies are in agreement about this. MSN says the NSA isn't nearly as confident that the evidence can reasonably confirm any scheme involving bounties, but this sort of disagreement is common for the National Security Agency, which has always been more conservative than other agencies with their assessments. They insist, instead, that there is some evidence to support the claim, while other evidence could be used to refute it.

US-paid private contractors

Private security contractors are civilian companies who pick up government contracts to assist war efforts in noncombatant roles. That means they're not actually allowed to fight. These companies take standard security contracts for private clients as well, but their government contracts usually have them working as prison guards, escorts, or in other support roles. An assumption that follows the use of private contractors is that they're cheaper and more efficient at these jobs, allowing the military to focus their efforts on more militant things like war. Global Policy Forum claims there's no hard evidence to support that assumption.

Since the War on Terror brought the United States to the Middle East in 2001, the country has relied heavily on civilian contractors in Afghanistan and other parts of the region. There have been times where more than 50 percent of the Department of Defense's forces were made up of these contractors.

Some of these companies have been caught committing war crimes, but since they're a nongovernment entity, they're entitled to prosecution in the United States as civilians while being immune to courts that would normally try military personnel. For instance, a former Blackwater employee was charged with shooting over a dozen unarmed civilians in Iraq. Questions about the effectiveness of current legal oversight for contractors have been raised.

The Taliban's attacks have created massive civilian casualties

Insurgent war tactics aren't the same as what you'd see from a well-backed and large government army. They don't usually have the same resources, support, or status that functioning nations have, so they resort to tactics that can be played out with less artillery and fewer troops. These tactics are often guerrilla in nature and involve aspects of terrorism as a way for the smaller force to get their point across, and a lot of civilians usually get hurt in the process. The Taliban and their allied forces fall under this category.

The Taliban have been known to attack government facilities, and most of their civilian casualties happen on accident. If they relied on attacking civilians, they'd never have a shot at gaining popular power in the region, which is something needed for a successful long-term regime change. They don't have the manpower to attack facilities outright, so they often rely on techniques such as bombing to get the job done. Per the BBC, while attacking an intelligence agency in 2019, their bomb ended up destroying a hospital. That same year, as reported by Amnesty International, they bombed the Afghan Ministry of Defense. The explosion killed three people and injured over 90 others, many of whom were children in the schools close by. These indiscriminate attacks show either a dangerous lack of foresight or a serious disregard for civilian lives.

US air strikes killed hundreds of civilians

Civilian casualties are a disgusting element of a tragic tradition that already costs the world plenty of human lives: war. It's the sort of thing you'd expect a species to have risen beyond by the time they've made the leap into space or harnessed the power of the Sun to microwave burritos, but humans haven't. In the War in Afghanistan, the number of civilians killed has been particularly high, and part of that is due to air strikes deployed by the United States and its allies.

According to the AFP, US-led air strikes cost the lives of 680 people in 2008 alone. Meanwhile, Afghan forces added a civilian death toll of 520. That's for one year. Each incident adds more bodies to the count. An airstrike against drug labs cost at least 60 civilian lives in 2019. At the start of the war, three towns were bombed, killing at least 70 people. Bombs are difficult weapons to control, and jets don't exactly have pinpoint accuracy, so it's easy to see why the range extends from the beginning of the war to today. The Taliban and their allies have plenty of civilian casualties of their own, but they don't have the funding to be conducting many air strikes.

More than one wedding was attacked

It may sound a little absurd, but we're pretty sure the War on Terror would win an award for most weddings attacked if, you know, that sort of award existed. (It doesn't. We checked.) The total number of weddings bombed by the US in the War on Terror comes to a ripe eight, with around 300 civilian casualties, according to The Nation. That's 300 people in their finest clothes, planning a night of merriment and festivities and having it all cut short to fulfill the bloodlust of the god of war.

One of the bombings occurred in Yemen while the US was targeting Al-Qaeda in the area. It killed dozens. Another occurred in Iraq. The other six happened during the War in Afghanistan. A wedding bombed by US forces in 2008 killed 47 Afghans, all of whom were civilians. These incidents aren't just at the hands of the US, either. The Taliban and their allied forces are to blame for other wedding attacks. For instance, the Islamic State bombed a wedding in 2019 via suicide attack, killing 63 people and injuring at least another 180. In Afghanistan, it seems that no target is too wholesome to be safe from the carnage of war.

The US threatened to sanction investigators for looking into potential war crimes

When you're accused of a crime, the last thing you want to do is threaten your accuser. Well, not if you want to look innocent, anyway. It's not going to help your image. But when you have the military might and economic pull that a country like, say, the United States has, it occasionally works out.

In June 2020, just a month before this article was written, the US did just that. It was announced by the International Criminal Court that they'd begin looking into complaints about American soldiers and the CIA committing war crimes in Afghanistan. They'd also investigate the Afghan government and the Taliban. It was an all-around investigation, since all sides had claims of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. 

That happened sometime in March. Back to June. President Donald Trump decided he'll prove the country's innocence of these alleged claims of torture, murder, illegal imprisonment, and targeting civilians in the most logical way he could think of: imposing travel restrictions and economic penalties on ICC investigators. US officials claimed they did so because America handles its own business, according to The New York Times. The ICC, on the other hand, thought the move was an unnecessary escalation. To be fair, the United States never signed onto the ICC, so they don't technically have jurisdiction here, but we've cooperated with them in the past.