Archive for March 2010
By Miles Amoore and David Leppard
THE British Army is facing allegations that at least 10 Taliban suspects were beaten and given electric shocks after being handed over to local security forces in Afghanistan.
The Afghan detainees have told British investigators that they were also whipped with cables and suffered sleep deprivation in prisons in Kabul and Sangin in the southern province of Helmand.
The jails are run by the Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS), which has a reputation for mistreating prisoners handed over to it by western forces.
The men are among several hundred suspected Taliban insurgents captured by British troops on the battlefield since 2002.
Their case, which will be heard by the High Court next month, is the latest blow to ministers already hit by claims that MI5 and MI6 colluded in the torture of up to 25 British men caught up in the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” programme for terror suspects.
The new development is particularly sensitive because Britain’s strategy in Afghanistan is focused on winning the hearts and minds of the population.
British forces are not accused of direct involvement in the alleged mistreatment. However, transferring a prisoner into the hands of another state when there is a real risk that they could be tortured or mistreated is a direct breach of the Geneva conventions. British officers could therefore face possible war crime charges if the claims can be proven. Read the rest of this entry »
THE Taliban fighters scurried up the craggy mountainside. As they neared the top, their 30-strong platoon split into three sections and they launched a ferocious assault on an enemy fort, opening fire from numerous positions.
The bullets they sprayed at the fort’s mud-coloured walls were blank, however. They merely pretended to fire their rocket-propelled grenades. When they reached the desert at the foot of the mountain, they did not race away on motorbikes, but filed into sand-coloured tents to refresh themselves with tea and naan.
The attack was a training exercise overseen by Iranian security officials in plain clothes. The Taliban do not know whether they were police officers, soldiers or secret service agents. What they can say is that in camps along the border between Afghanistan and Iran, Taliban recruits are being taught how to ambush British, American and other Nato troops using guns and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
They are learning to attack checkpoints as well as mountain bases. Iranian instructors are also giving them target practice on desert ranges with Kalashnikov assault rifles.
In the past, Shi’ite Iran has opposed the Sunni Taliban. But western officials say Iran now wants to expand its influence within the Taliban movement.
A Taliban commander who has been trained in Iran said last week: “Our religions and our histories are different, but our target is the same — we both want to kill Americans.”
In recent months, senior American officials have accused Iran of playing “a double game” by training and arming the Taliban while supporting the Afghan government.
Taliban leaders interviewed by The Sunday Times last week provided the first direct evidence of how Iran is training insurgents on its own soil. Read the rest of this entry »
THE two helicopters swooped low over a cluster of mud homes, whirling in the cold night sky before landing in a wheat field on the edge of the small Afghan village.
From his home nearby, 23-year-old Najibullah Omar strained his eyes in the darkness as he made out the faint shapes of armed men pouring from the helicopters’ bellies.
A third helicopter circled menacingly in the moonless sky above the village of Karakhil in Wardak province, southwest of Kabul.
Then a loud explosion shook the ground and a plume of smoke rose from his cousin Hamidullah’s house 20 yards away. Its guest room caught fire. Omar heard a burst of gunfire before all went quiet.
His worst fears were confirmed the moment he walked through the compound gate at first light.
The body of his cousin, a 32-year-old construction engineer who had taken a break from his job in a far-off province to visit his family, lay sprawled next to those of his wife and their seven-year-old son. Blood ran in dark pools on the mud floor of the terrace outside their door.
The wife and son had been shot in the head, each with a single bullet. The engineer had died from a shot to the chest. The precision of the killings, coupled with his failure to find any bullet casings after the raid, led Omar to believe that his cousin was murdered either by US special forces or by an intelligence agency.
The sole survivor was the couple’s younger son, aged six, whose upper torso was riddled with puncture wounds from grenade shrapnel.
Some of the villagers dug away the fallen wooden beams, revealing the charred corpses of three Taliban fighters — a mid-level commander and two bodyguards, apparently killed where they slept by a missile from the circling helicopter.
“The Taliban often force themselves into our homes. What can we do?” said Omar. “We’re afraid of them. It’s better to keep your house and shelter the Taliban when they demand it than to lose your home.”
Last week General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of Nato troops in Afghanistan, responded to President Hamid Karzai’s call for a ban on night raids by publicly ordering his troops to curb their use.
The general’s order aims to end the killing and detention of innocent civilians during night operations. According to the United Nations, 98 civilians were killed in such raids last year, provoking widespread outrage. They are believed to have swollen the ranks of the Taliban, who score an easy propaganda victory every time Nato kills a civilian.
In his order, first issued confidentially to officers in January, McChrystal wrote that violating Afghans’ homes made it more difficult to win vital public support.
The new policy has created tensions with officers commanding special forces units, who often launch night operations without informing Nato commanders. Read the rest of this entry »