A few days ago, an acquaintance of my family told us how he was busy translating for newly arrived Afghan refugees in the United States. Thousands of families have been evacuated in a mass exodus that was broadcast by international news organizations. Many families remain isolated inside military bases all around the U.S., as their cases are processed.
At one such base, our family friend met several men whose language he could barely decipher. It turned out they were speaking Pashto, although not the standard dialect spoken across Afghanistan. They were speaking the distinct Pashto of Khost, a province in Afghanistans southeast. Through their inability to communicate with non-Khostis, it slowly became clear that the men and their families had never before left their province. Now, however, they had more than enough reason to leave. They were once part of the so-called Khost Protection Force (KPF), a notorious Afghan militia that was created by the CIA in the region.
TheKPFwas founded in the first days of the war on terrorism in Afghanistan. Consisting of local Pashtuns from the region, all fighters were trained and armed by the CIA, which also had a base in Khost that had come under repeated Taliban attack. The militia itself became notorious among locals. KPF mainly conducted joint night raids with U.S. forces, tracked targets for drone operations, and often appeared at the scene after airstrikes. They also conductedgross human rights violations, abducted, tortured, and killed journalists and human rights activists, or prevented them from entering sites of war crimes.
In late August, both the U.S. military and the CIA abandoned its military bases and evacuated most of the local militias who were fighting for them.
Since the KPF directly operated under the CIA, it acted independently from the now dissolved Afghan National Army. But while most regular Afghan soldiers were poorly equipped, KPF forces were heavily armed with modern weapons. U.S. handlers deployed the KPF mostly to terrify average Afghans within the restive Loya Paktia region of Afghanistans southeast. (The State Department declined to comment.)
During the last two decades, the CIAs complex of networks had become part of daily life in Khost. Surveillance balloons, antennas on what seemed to be every hill, and KPF militias on the ground dominated the landscape of an otherwise scenic province. The center of this dystopian reality was the agencys base in the city of Khost, Camp Chapman, where the militia was trained. In late August, both the U.S. military and the CIA abandoned its military bases and evacuated most of the local militias who were fighting for them. But many Afghans are still haunted by the crimes of those very forces.
On October 15, 2020, KPF militiamen burst into the house of Mohammad Shawkat, a merchant from Khost. He was shot dead in the raid alongside eight other members of his family, including a woman. Shawkat was not a member of any terrorist group. He was just a normal Afghan who worked in the city, a local from Shawkats village told me after the raid. He emphasized that similar attacks on civilians took place regularly. You cannot do much if something like that happens. You just have to pray they dont come after you, he added. Like many other people from the region, he believed that the KPF had become an untouchable force because of its CIA backers.
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It wasnt long until another atrocity took place. Two weeks after the raid that killed Shawkat and his family, the KPF conducted operations in Khosts Sabari district. First, a militia convoy was attacked apparently by the Taliban, according to local resident Hazwar Wali Sabir. Shortly afterward, the KPF killed at least five civilians in a nearby village. Sabir and other locals described back then how one of the victims was a young man called Mohammad Amin, the son of former Afghan parliamentarian Amir Khan Sabarai. More raids took place in several different villages of the district.
Obviously, such attacks fueled militancy and extremism in the region. The U.S. thought that it could secure places like Khost by training and arming a group of brutal thugs. In many cases, it manipulated and even engineered tribal rivalries. In the long term, the U.S. could not establish a secure foothold in these regions, but many regular villagers instead sought revenge after KPF raided their homes and murdered their family members.
The Taliban welcomed the victims families with open arms. You did not have any other choice. They turned you into a Talib, said Noor ul-Hadi, a 20-something resident of eastern Nangarhar province. In 2012, U.S. soldiers and CIA-backed militiamen, theinfamous Zero units, attacked Kala Shaikh, ul-Hadis remote village. During the raid, they attacked the house of his father, Abdul Hadi Mohmand, who had close ties to the local government in Jalalabad, killing his brother and nephew.
Ul-Hadi has not forgotten the raid. They entered the house brutally and just started shooting. They didnt care about whom they were killing. When we demanded an investigation, we were just fobbed off, he said. The murderers of ul-Hadis family did not face justice.
Now the Americans have evacuated members of the KPF. The resettled militiamen and their families will have the opportunity to seek prosperity in the U.S., starting a new life far away from the blood they shed with impunity.