CIA trains covert units of Afghans to continue the fight against Taliban

Shadowy, unaccountable forces accused of human rights abuses

Covert forces of CIA-trained Afghan paramilitaries are being built up to continue the US-led war on the Taliban as thousands of US troops prepare to leave the country.

Members of one shadowy group of some 400 men in southern Kandahar province have given The Independent a unique insight into their training and secret operations against militants as foreign troops prepare to quit Afghanistan by 2014.

Senior figures within one of the forces revealed that they were taught hand-to-hand combat by foreign military advisers, were delivered to targets by US Black Hawk helicopters and have received a letter of thanks from President Hamid Karzai for their work.

Despite their apparent military successes, one of the groups, the Kandahar Strike Force, has been dogged by rights abuse allegations that have raised questions about their role when their foreign handlers leave the country.

"These forces are the most shadowy and the most unaccountable in the country and it's a serious problem [that] nobody's taking responsibility for," said Rachel Reid, a senior policy adviser to the Open Society Foundation.

Under a revamped counterterror strategy released on 28 June, the US said it intended to "ensure the rapid degradation of al-Qa'ida's leadership structure" – and those of its adherents – using covert tactics going "beyond traditional intelligence, military, and law-enforcement functions".

Details of the group's operation were given in interviews by three former members in a prison outside Kabul where they are serving sentences, along with 38 comrades, for the killing of a police chief in 2009. The shoot-out was sparked by the detention of a member of the Kandahar Strike Force. They are appealing against their convictions.

The paramilitary groups are concentrated in eastern and southern Afghanistan where they collect intelligence, secure the border with Pakistan, and launch raids on militants from al-Qa'ida, the Taliban and the host of other militant groups. Taliban sources have told The Independent that the Kandahar Strike Force is the outfit they fear most.

Atal Afghanzai, a former commander of the Kandahar Strike Force, said that he was recruited when he heard the Americans were looking for guards. He was billeted at Camp Gecko, a sprawling place in the hills outside Kandahar City that was once home to the Taliban leader Mullah Omar but now houses a cafeteria, pool and fountain with catfish. According to The New York Times, the CIA and US Special Forces rented it from the late Ahmed Wali Karzai, half-brother to the Afghan President who was killed last week.

Foreign military advisers at the camp taught hand-to-hand combat and put new recruits through ambush training, as well as teaching them English, said Afghanzai. Everyone, he said, from the cook to the Special Forces advisers, was "working for OGA somehow": an acronym standing for "other government agencies" and generally used to refer to the CIA. "We had day raids, night raids. Any time we received intel from the NDS [Afghanistan's security service] that there were 10, 20, 50 insurgents gathering in a house or a garden, we'd launch an op." He did not discuss specific operations.

The Kandahar Strike Force grew to a 400-man outfit and became so effective that, according to Afghanzai, "President Karzai sent letters of thanks."

Two other members of the Kandahar Strike Force, Basir, a former platoon commander, and Fazel Mohammad, a deputy platoon commander, also held at the Pul-i-Charkhi prison, said they were serving Afghan commandos in 2004 when they were recruited to a "special unit". They said their commander was approached by an American adviser.

Prison authorities and the judge who presided over their 2009 trial confirmed that they worked at Camp Gecko. Afghan and Western officials also confirmed they were hired as private security guards working for the CIA at Camp Gecko and that they conducted raids.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Martin of Coldplay performs live for fans at Enmore Theatre on June 19, 2014 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)
music
Sport
Dave Mackay lifts the FA Cup in 1967 having skippered Spurs to victory
football
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
Jihadi John
newsMonikers like 'Jihadi John' make the grim sound glamorous
Arts and Entertainment
As depicted in Disney's Robin Hood, King John was cowardly, cruel, avaricious and incompetent
film
Life and Style
Travis Kalanick, the co-founder of Uber, is now worth $5.3bn
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Night Porters - Seasonal Placement

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Night Porters are required to join a family-ow...

Recruitment Genius: Media Sales Executives - B2B

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Genius Ltd continue...

Recruitment Genius: Media Sales Executives - B2B

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Genius Ltd continue...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you have the right attitude,...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn