Afghan arrest puts spotlight on US special forces

Shahedulla holds pictures of his brother Mohammad Qasim, whose body was found close to Nerkh. Picture: Reuters
Shahedulla holds pictures of his brother Mohammad Qasim, whose body was found close to Nerkh. Picture: Reuters
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AN AFGHAN army colonel has been arrested for illegally handing prisoners to a man working with a US special forces team that was accused of torture and killings in the country’s Wardak province.

The rare arrest of a senior military officer underlines the resolve of the Afghanistan government to crack down on human rights abuses in the 12-year-long civil war ahead of an election next year.

Reports earlier this year that villagers detained by security forces in the Nerkh district of Wardak province were being tortured or killed led to a serious rupture between Afghan authorities and the US-led multinational force.

Afghan president Hamid Karzai later ordered all western troops out of Nerkh.

The arrest of the colonel comes after the bodies of three men detained in joint US and Afghan raids since November were found close to the COP Nerkh military outpost last month, where the US special forces team was based.

Several hundred Afghans yesterday paraded another three corpses freshly dug-up from near the Nerkh base, shouting “Death to America” and “Death to special forces” and demanding the Americans be arrested.

The rally brought a car with the three bodies to the provincial governor’s office, then protesters fanned out and blocked traffic on the main road from Kabul to Kandahar.

One local, Naimatullah, 35, said earlier this week that his two brothers, Sediqullah, 28, and Estmatullah, 25, disappeared after a raid on their house during a round-up of men from the village of Amer Kheil on 20 November and were seen being taken by US special forces into the base.

A senior Afghan government official in Kabul and two officials with international organisations said the Afghan colonel, who was based in Wardak, had admitted to handing over several prisoners to a man known as Zakeria Kandahari, who has spent years working with US forces.

Both Kandahari, who was based in Nerkh, and the US troops there are accused by the Afghan government of committing human rights abuses or complicity.

Kandahari has not been seen in public since January, according to people in the area, and several officials said his name was likely to be an alias. It was not possible to obtain the colonel’s name or contact his family or a lawyer representing him.

A senior US military official and the senior Afghan official based in Kabul said Kandahari was working with or for the Americans at the time the prisoners were handed over to him.

“This colonel was handing over detainees to Kandahari, thinking that Kandahari worked for the [US] special forces and they had the authority to question any detainee,” the Afghan official said.

“This was irresponsible and that’s why [the colonel] was himself detained and is being investigated,” he said.

American military officials have denied that the US special forces team in Nerkh participated in or turned a blind eye to torture and illegal killings by Afghans working with them.

US Lieutenant Colonel Tom Bryant, a spokesman for a multinational special forces command in Afghanistan, said three investigations were conducted concerning allegations of misconduct by the special forces team.

“A thorough review of these allegations, in co-operation with Afghan authorities, confirmed that no coalition forces were involved in the alleged misconduct,” Lt Col Bryant said. The Afghan ministry of defence has compiled a list of 18 men alleged to have been detained in Nerkh. The three men whose bodies were found were among ten listed as missing, villagers said. The other eight were listed as dead.

It is unclear if any of the 18 men on the ministry of defence list were among those handed over by the colonel to Kandahari.