The CIA Khost Force in Afghanistan

A soldier Afghan Army, image from wikipedia

The CIA continues to run a shadow war in the eastern part of Afghanistan, overseeing an Afghan proxy called the Khost Protection Force (KPF), according to local officials, former commanders of that militia and Western advisers.  The highly secretive paramilitary unit has been implicated in civilian killings, torture, questionable detentions, arbitrary arrests and use of excessive force in controversial night raids, abuses that have mostly not been previously disclosed.

Here in Khost–the strategic eastern border province, which has long served as a key gateway for militants entering from Pakistan, the KPF fights in conjunction with the CIA out of Forward Operating Base Chapman.In Khost, the KPF is more influential than the Afghan army and police, and is unaccountable to the provincial government, often acting outside normal chains of command. Locally, militias such as the KPF are called “campaign forces,” an informal name Afghans use for pro-government armed groups….

But a visit to Khost last month revealed that although there is coordination with the security directorate — the NDS — the CIA is still directing the KPF’s operations, paying fighters’ salaries, and training and equipping them. American personnel were gathering biometric data of alleged suspects, according to witnesses, former KPF commanders and local officials who regularly meet with the force and their American overseers.

The KPF was one of several large paramilitary forces created by the CIA in the months after the Taliban was ousted following the 9/11 attacks. Recruits were drawn from local tribes in Khost with promises of salaries, equipment and conditions that were better than in the Afghan military.The force largely operates along the border with North Waziristan, the Pakistani tribal region that is a nerve center for the Taliban, its ally, the Haqqani Network, and al-Qaeda. Fighters receive as much as $400 a month in salary, twice what a soldier in the Afghan security forces earns. Commanders earn $1,000 or more a month, as much as an Afghan army general. Equipped with night-vision goggles, they drive tan Humvees and armored trucks mounted with machine guns.CIA operatives often travel along on raids with the KPF in order to call in airstrikes, from U.S. warplanes or drones, if needed, said Sardar Khan Zadran, a former top KPF commander who still maintains close links to the force.  “They are accountable to no one but the Americans,” Zadran said…

On Nov. 7, 2015 hundreds of angry villagers took to the streets of Khost city. There had been another night raid in which the KPF killed two people, described by the protesters as civilians. The corpses were placed in pickup trucks, and the crowd moved toward Camp Chapman. Some clutched sticks and tree branches. Others carried white Taliban flags.“Death to Americans,” they chanted. “Death to American slaves.”

It was the latest sign of a growing backlash against the CIA and its proxy.The provincial council, several of its members said, has received thousands of complaints about the KPF, not just about the deadly night raids, but also about strict roadblocks that can last for hours. “If their problems are not solved, those people might start cooperating with the insurgents,” said Bostan Walizai, a human rights activist.

Excerpts from  Sudarsan Raghavan, CIA runs shadow war with Afghan militia implicated in civilian killings, Washington Post,  Dec. 3, 2015

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