Socialist Worker

War crimes—the West’s hidden horrors in Afghanistan

Murders, torture and massacres—that’s the reality of the war in Afghanistan exposed by a report into Australian war crimes. And for all its denial, Britain is just as guilty, writes Isabel Ringrose

Issue No. 2734

Ordinary people are victims of the Wests long bloody war in Afghanistan

Ordinary people are victims of the West's long bloody war in Afghanistan


Recently revealed atrocities by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan were a brutal reminder that—19 years after the invasion—Western armies are still terrorising the country.

Stories of what Australian soldiers did—told in the recently published Brereton Report—are gut wrenching.

They include accounts of how soldiers, after entering a village, “Would take the men and boys to these guest houses and interrogate them, meaning tie them up and torture them.

“When the soldiers left the village, ‘the men and boys would be found dead, shot in the head, sometimes blindfolded and throats slit. These are corroborated accounts’.”

One account “describes allegations that two ‘14 year old boys suspected of being Taliban sympathisers had their throats slit.

“The bodies were bagged and thrown into a nearby river”.

It’s a rare glimpse of the truth of what the West’s wars actually mean. And we shouldn’t allow the focus on Australia to let Britain’s occupying forces off the hook.

While Australia has been forced to shine a spotlight on its atrocities, Britain has done its best to keep its own under wraps.

And there’s a lot to cover up—almost two decades’ worth.

When I entered the room I saw bones and teeth all over the place. The four of them were lying there, blood everywhere

Last year the BBC reported a story of how British special forces soldiers murdered two Afghan children in 2012. It bears a chilling resemblance to the crimes of the Australians.

At 8pm, British and Afghan soldiers burst into a family home in the village of Loy Bagh and opened fire. A 12 year old, Ahmad Shah, and 14 year old Mohammed Tayeb were staying there overnight with 17 year old Naik Mohammed and his brother, Fazel.

After the soldiers left, a witness said, “When I entered the room I saw bones and teeth all over the place. The four of them were lying there, blood everywhere.”

It’s the sort of violence that occurs in a war where brutality is encouraged from the top down. Britain’s whole occupation is built on it.

Britain operated a secret prison in Afghanistan at its Camp Bastion base where it held Afghans indefinitely and without charge.

It supported the US in running secret prisons for unlawful detention and torture. It officially denies this and remains as silent as possible—but it’s an open secret.

The best known prison is the Bagram airbase or “The Hangar”.

US lawyer Tina Foster, who argued several cases on behalf of Bagram detainees, says that “Bagram was worse than Guantanamo” and “has always been a torture chamber”.

The Troublemaker—British soldiers’ torture  and murder covered up
British soldiers’ torture and murder covered up
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One former British special forces officer said that “hundreds” of individuals have been detained by British forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

They were “routinely” handed over to US forces in the knowledge that they would be tortured. The fact that such places existed shows the hypocrisy of those who claimed the war was started on ­“humanitarian” grounds.

They draw up laws to supposedly ban such atrocities and make their wars seem legitimate, just and civilised.

Then they build armies, prisons and torture camps to break those laws.

The culprits named in the Brereton report were Australian special forces. That supposedly means they’re the most highly trained and disciplined troops.

It really means they’re specially trained to murder and dehumanise their victims. The culture the report reveals is the result.

Special forces saw themselves as beyond scrutiny with a sense of elite entitlement. The report found evidence of 39 murders of ­non­combatants, civilians, and ­prisoners in 23 incidents by 25 Australian soldiers—either as principals, accessories, or at their instruction.

Soldiers used Afghan civilians as “target practice”. They would then plant weapons on dead civilians to give the illusion they were combatants, in a ­practice called “throwdowns”.

Junior soldiers were also required by superiors to murder prisoners as their first kill—known as “blooding”. And photographs of a senior special forces soldier drinking alcohol out of the prosthetic leg of a dead Taliban fighter circulated a week after the report was released.

Officers higher up in the rankings knew what was going on. Such cases are not one offs in an otherwise justifiable war. And that’s precisely why Britain wants to cover up its own crimes.

After the Brereton report was released, the British Ministry of Defence (MOD) said, “Our armed forces are held to the highest standards, and the Service Police have carried out extensive and independent investigations into alleged misconduct of UK forces in Afghanistan.”

Two senior officers from Special Forces reported that troops had adopted a “deliberate policy” of illegally killing unarmed men

There is plenty of evidence that shows this isn’t true—but measures are put in place from the top to cover them up.

For example the government is ­pushing through a new law to protect soldiers’ reputations—and its own.

The Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill was introduced to parliament in March 2020.

It provides legal protections to armed forces personnel and veterans serving in military operations overseas. These troops cannot be prosecuted due to alleged offences committed on overseas military operations more than five years ago.

Soldiers will be extremely unlikely to face court action relating to the war in Afghanistan. The government also closed Operation Northmoor in 2017. This was the official investigation of British Special Forces in Afghanistan, set up in 2014 to examine criminal allegations.

Techniques of terror—the truth about state torture
Techniques of terror—the truth about state torture
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At its peak it investigated 675 ­criminal allegations from 159 complainants, including 52 accusations of wrongful deaths.

It was supposed to run until 2021. But the MOD pushed for its early closure, as well as the investigation into crimes committed in Iraq.

This meant accusations being investigated were abandoned and key Afghan witnesses were not interviewed. Any charges made had to be dropped and no case investigated led to a prosecution.

One detective said, “The Ministry of Defence had no intention of prosecuting any soldier of whatever rank he was unless it was absolutely necessary, and they couldn’t wriggle their way out of it.”

Operation Northmoor was investigating dozens of suspicious killings on night raids. One included the killings of three children and a young man in 2012 by British soldiers. It was widely reported that higher authorities tried to cover this up.

At the height of the war in Afghanistan in 2011 two senior officers from Special Forces reported that troops had adopted a “deliberate policy” of illegally killing unarmed men.

Reports came in of ­execution-style ­killings, which matched a sharp rise in the number of “enemies killed in action”.

And as more ­stories of murdered teenagers come to light, it seems even that phrase hides a horrible truth.


US soldiers in Afghanistan in 2001

US soldiers in Afghanistan in 2001


Imperialist conflict justified by phoney ‘humanitarian’ morality

Britain and the US justified the invasion as a war of “humanitarian intervention”. It was really part of a plan to reassert the US’s control of the Middle East and beyond.

They invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, following the attacks on the World Trade Centre that September.

The US’s explanation for invasion was to hunt Biden Laden in Afghanistan. But the ultimate aim was to build towards an invasion of Iraq. It was part of the “war on terror” used to justify military invasions, and which also gave rise to rampant Islamophobia.

Britain used its involvement to prop up its standing as the US’s junior partner.

General Sir Richard Dannatt, then Chief of the General Staff, said in 2009 that Britain’s “military reputation and credibility, unfairly or not, have been called into question at several levels in the eyes of our most important ally as a result of some aspects of the Iraq campaign”.

Britain had to take pivotal “steps to restore this credibility”.

To justify the cost of life and £37 billion in resources spent in Afghanistan, British government officials said they were fighting to prevent terrorist attacks in Britain.

But rulers do not care about improving the lives of people anywhere. They care for profits, power and world domination.

US interference in Afghanistan leaves thousands living in misery
US interference in Afghanistan leaves thousands living in misery
  Read More

They claimed that the war was a justified cause to defend democracy and human rights—in particular women’s rights—from the threat of the Taliban. The British state wanted us to believe it was a human rights issue they were fighting over 4,500 miles away.

Yet the lives of people in Afghanistan have been made horrendously worse by foreign invasion. And the resurgence of the Taliban was in part the result of invasion.

Britain has shut its borders to refugees that are fleeing the wars it created.

There are currently 2.5 million refugees who have been displaced by this war alone.

Nearly twenty years on, economic development in Afghanistan has been impossible. The Nato military alliance supposedly ended its combat mission in 2014. But Western soldiers still terrorise the whole country.

In 2009, then president Barack Obama and vice-president Joe Biden sent an additional 17,000 US troops to add to the 36,000 already there. They continued to heap more soldiers in, and by 2011 some 100,000 US troops were in Afghanistan.

Then, in 2017, Donald Trump increased troops by 50 percent.

Western soldiers are still there because their governments are desperate to keep control of the mess they created.

The Afghan government propped up by the West is filled with corruption. The ruling elite put in place by the US profits from industrial-scale opium production.

The country is heavily dependent on foreign aid, and citizens suffer from shortages of clean water and electricity.

In February Donald Trump signed a conditional peace deal with the Taliban that would see US troops withdraw from Afghanistan within 14 months.

This humiliating defeat shows that the US could never win in Afghanistan—and billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives have been wasted attempting to prove otherwise.

But the Afghan government was kept out of the negotiations.

So Taliban and Afghan forces continue the bloody warfare while the world powers responsible pat themselves on the back.


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