CIA-Backed Units Killed Hundreds of Afghan Civilians in Brutal Night Raids

“Zero Items” backed by the U.S. made nearly no effort to tell apart noncombatants and killed with whole impunity.

This story was initially printed by ProPublica.

In 2019, reporter Lynzy Billing returned to Afghanistan to analysis the murders of her mom and sister almost 30 years earlier. As an alternative, within the nation’s distant reaches, she stumbled upon the CIA-backed Zero Items, who performed evening raids — fast, brutal operations designed to have resounding psychological impacts whereas ostensibly eradicating high-priority enemy targets.

So, Billing tried to catalog the size of civilian deaths left behind by simply one in every of 4 Zero Items, generally known as the 02, over a 4 12 months interval. The resulting report represents an effort nobody else has finished or will ever have the ability to do once more. Here’s what she discovered:

  • A minimum of 452 civilians had been killed in 107 raids. This quantity is nearly definitely an undercount. Whereas some raids did outcome within the seize or loss of life of recognized militants, others killed bystanders or appeared to focus on individuals for no clear cause.
  • A troubling variety of raids seem to have relied on defective intelligence by the CIA and different U.S. intelligence-gathering companies. Two Afghan Zero Unit troopers described raids they had been despatched on through which they stated their targets had been chosen by america.
  • The previous head of Afghanistan’s intelligence company acknowledged that the models had been getting it incorrect at occasions and killing civilians. He oversaw the Zero Items throughout a vital interval and agreed that nobody paid a consequence for these botched raids. He went on to explain an operation that went incorrect: “I went to the household myself and stated: ‘We’re sorry. … We need to be totally different from the Taliban.’ And I imply we did, we needed to be totally different from the Taliban.”
  • The Afghan troopers weren’t alone on the raids; U.S. particular operations forces troopers working with the CIA usually joined them. The Afghan troopers Billing spoke to stated they had been usually accompanied on raids by at the very least 10 U.S. particular operations forces troopers. “These deaths occurred at our arms. I’ve participated in lots of raids,” one of many Afghans stated, “and there have been lots of of raids the place somebody is killed and they don’t seem to be Taliban or ISIS, and the place no militants are current in any respect.”
  • Army planners baked potential “collateral injury” into the pre-raid calculus — what number of ladies/kids/noncombatants had been in danger if the raid went awry, in keeping with one U.S. Military Ranger Billing spoke to. These forecasts had been usually wildly off, he stated, but nobody appeared to essentially care. He advised Billing that evening raids had been a greater possibility than airstrikes however acknowledged that the raids risked creating new rebel recruits. “You go on evening raids, make extra enemies, then you definately gotta go on extra evening raids for the extra enemies you now must kill.”
  • As a result of the Zero Items operated beneath a CIA program, their actions had been a part of a “categorized” warfare, with the strains of accountability so obscured that nobody needed to reply for operations that went incorrect. And U.S. duty for the raids was quietly muddied by a legal loophole that enables the CIA — and any U.S. troopers lent to the company for his or her operations — to behave with out the identical stage of oversight because the American navy.
  • Congressional aides and former intelligence committee staffers stated they don’t imagine Congress was getting a whole image of the CIA’s abroad operations. Legal professionals representing whistleblowers stated there may be ample motivation to downplay to Congress the variety of civilians killed or injured in such operations. By the point stories get to congressional oversight committees, one lawyer stated, they’re “undercounting deaths and overstating accuracy.”
  • U.S. navy and intelligence businesses have lengthy relied on evening raids by forces just like the 02 unit to battle insurgencies across the globe. The technique has, repeatedly, drawn outrage for its reliance on generally flawed intelligence and civilian loss of life rely. In 1967, the CIA’s Phoenix Program famously used kill-capture raids in opposition to the Viet Cong insurgency in south Vietnam, creating an intense public blowback. Regardless of this system’s ignominious status — a 1971 Pentagon research discovered solely 3% of these killed or captured had been full or probationary Viet Cong members above the district stage — it seems to have served as a blueprint for future evening raid operations.
  • Eyewitnesses, survivors and members of the family described how Zero Unit troopers had stormed into their homes at night, killing family members** at greater than 30 raid websites Billing visited. No Afghan or U.S officers returned to research. In a single occasion, a 22-year-old named Batour witnessed a raid that killed his two brothers. One was a instructor and the opposite a college pupil. He advised Billing the Zero Unit technique had truly made enemies of households like his. He and his brothers, he stated, had supported the federal government and vowed by no means to affix the Taliban. Now, he stated, he’s not so certain.
  • Little in the way in which of rationalization was ever offered to the family of the useless — or to their neighbors and buddies — as to why these specific people had been focused and what crimes they had been accused of. Households who sought solutions from provincial officers concerning the raids had been advised nothing might be finished as a result of they had been Zero Unit operations. “They’ve their very own intelligence they usually do their very own operation,” one grieving member of the family remembered being advised after his three grandchildren had been killed in an airstrike and evening raid. “The provincial governor gave us a parcel of rice, a can of oil and a few sugar” as compensation for the killings. At medical services, docs advised Billing they’d by no means been contacted by Afghan or U.S. investigators or human rights teams concerning the destiny of these injured within the raids. A number of the injured later died, quietly boosting the casualty rely.

In a press release, CIA spokesperson Tammy Thorp stated, “As a rule, the U.S. takes extraordinary measures — past these mandated by regulation — to scale back civilian casualties in armed battle, and treats any declare of human rights abuses with the utmost seriousness.” She stated any allegations of human rights abuses by a “overseas companion” are reviewed and, if legitimate, the CIA and “different components of the U.S. authorities take concrete steps, together with offering coaching on relevant regulation and greatest practices, or if essential terminating help or the connection.” Thorp stated the Zero Items had been the goal of a scientific propaganda marketing campaign designed to discredit them as a result of “of the risk they posed to Taliban rule.”

The Division of Protection didn’t reply to questions on Zero Unit operations.

With a forensic pathologist, Billing drove lots of of miles throughout a number of the nation’s most unstable areas — visiting the websites of greater than 30 raids, interviewing witnesses, survivors, members of the family, docs and village elders. To know this system, she met secretly with two Zero Unit troopers over the course of years, wrangled with Afghanistan’s former spy grasp in his closely fortified residence and traveled to a diner in the midst of America to fulfill with an Military Ranger who’d joined the models on operations.

She additionally performed greater than 350 interviews with present and former Afghan and American authorities officers, Afghan commanders, U.S navy officers, American protection and safety officers and former CIA intelligence officers, in addition to U.S. lawmakers and former oversight committee members, counterterrorism and coverage officers, civilian-casualty evaluation consultants, navy attorneys, intelligence analysts, representatives of human rights organizations, docs, hospital administrators, coroners, forensic examiners, eyewitnesses and members of the family — a few of whom are usually not named within the story for his or her security.

Whereas America’s warfare in Afghanistan could also be over, there are classes to be discovered from what it left behind. Billing writes:

“The American authorities has scant foundation for believing it has a full image of the Zero Items’ efficiency. Many times, I spoke with Afghans who had by no means shared their tales with anybody. Congressional officers involved concerning the CIA’s operations in Afghanistan stated they had been startled by the civilian loss of life toll I documented.

As my notebooks crammed, I got here to understand that I used to be compiling an eyewitness account of a very ignominious chapter in america’ fraught document of abroad interventions.

And not using a true reckoning of what occurred in Afghanistan, it grew to become clear the U.S. might simply deploy the identical failed ways in some new nation in opposition to some new risk.”

Read her full report here.