A U.S.-Backed Militia That Kills Children May Be Americas Exit Strategy From Its Longest War
12-year-old Bilal survived a December 2018 night raid on his madrassa in Afghanistans Wardak Province, during which 12 other boys were massacred. There were Americans in the corridor, Bilal told The Intercept. We could hear them speaking.
The buzz of a drone at night was the first sign of trouble.
Next came the roar of a larger, low-flying aircraft, which alerted residents of the Afghan village of Omar Khail that soldiers were nearby. Men in camouflage moved through the streets speaking Pashto and English. It was December 2018, and the air was frigid. They made their way to the madrassa, or religious school, where more than two dozen boys between the ages of 9 and 18 slept on the floors of several dormitory rooms.
A neighbor watching from a window across the street saw a flash and heard a loud explosion as the front gate of the madrassa was blown open. Inside, the noise awakened 12-year-old Bilal, who was huddled in a room with nine other boys when an Afghan soldier burst through the door.
Wake up! the man yelled in Pashto, pointing at the boys one by one with the barrel of his rifle, which was mounted with a flashlight. A second soldier entered, chose the two tallest boys, and led them out the door. The first soldier turned to leave, but before he did, he issued a warning to the rest of the boys cowering before him: If I find you in this madrassa again, we wont leave a single child alive.
Bilal and the others squeezed together as far from the door as they could, with their backs to a large window facing a central courtyard. Many were in tears; others couldnt speak. From the hallway, Bilal heard words he recognized as English.
Theyre not going to let us live, a student murmured.
In preparation for death, some of the boys recited the Muslim declaration of faith, known as the Shahada: There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger.
Just then, the sound of automatic gunfire tore along the corridor. For a very short time, Bilal said, it sounded like there were many guns. Boys screams came next, followed by two loud explosions. One shook the whole building, said Bilal. We didnt hear anything after this. Everyone was silent.
When the sun rose hours later, Bilal and about a dozen other students remained crouching in silence, some still trembling with fear. Nearby, in two of the schools other rooms and in the basement, 12 more boys, their bodies mauled by bullets, lay crumpled on the floor. Afghanistan-The-Intercept-Quilty-1
The main road through Wardaks Chak District, where night raids by the CIA-led 01 strike force unit and accompanying U.S. airstrikes killed more than a dozen civilians in 2018 and 2019.
Photo: Andrew Quilty/Agence Vu
The 12 boys killed in the madrassa at Omar Khail that winter night were among scores of civilians massacred during at least 10 previously undocumented night raids in the central Afghan province of Wardak. Beginning in December 2018 and continuing for at least a year, Afghan operatives believed to belong to an elite CIA-trained paramilitary unit known as 01, in partnership with U.S. special operations forces and air power, unleashed a campaign of terror against civilians. This story is based on interviews with more than 50 Wardak residents, including 20 survivors and firsthand witnesses and 29 victims relatives and local residents who witnessed the aftermath of the killings within hours of when they occurred. Some of those accounts were corroborated by local officials, analysts, and community representatives.
The 10 raids resulted in the deaths of at least 51 civilians, according to The Intercepts reporting. In most cases, men and boys as young as 8, few of whom appear to have had any formal relationship with the Taliban, were summarily executed. Some died alone, others alongside friends and family. Several raids were accompanied by airstrikes or, in at least one instance, the detonation of hand-laid explosives targeting structures known to be occupied by civilians.
The Intercept has changed the names of those killed in the raids and of the survivors, witnesses, and victims relatives we spoke with to shield them from further harm. Some requested anonymity because they feared retribution from pro-government forces, while others worried the Taliban would punish them for speaking candidly to a journalist.
Residents from four districts in Wardak Nerkh, Chak, Sayedabad, and Daymirdad spoke of a string of massacres, executions, mutilation, forced disappearances, attacks on medical facilities, and airstrikes targeting structures known to house civilians. The victims, according to these residents, were rarely Taliban. Yet the Afghan unit and its American masters have never been publicly held accountable by either the Afghan or U.S. governments.
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