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Afghan group probes reports of 20 civilians killed in Khost

March 29, 2021 GMT

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A human rights group in Afghanistan said Monday it was probing a shooting last week in which CIA-trained Afghan forces reportedly killed 20 civilians during an anti-Taliban operation in eastern Khost province.

The development comes as Washington is trying to negotiate a reduction in violence between the Taliban and Afghan government forces.

The reports first surfaced on Sunday, when residents from the province’s Saberi district said pro-government forces — the so-called intelligence special forces — killed several civilians, including women and children. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission said it launched an investigation.

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Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid circulated photographs of the purported victims and urged the government to stop such attacks if it seeks a reduction in violence.

A video taken by an alleged Saberi resident and circulated on social media shows an old man carrying a child’s lifeless body, claiming several members of his family were killed. He says no Taliban were killed in thes operation.

The CIA-trained Afghan special forces have in the past been accused of repeated attacks on civilians and have been called out by Human Rights Watch and the United Nations for their often heavy-handed tactics that have left civilians dead. They operate with seeming impunity under Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security, and hold nondescript names like Unit 01 or Khost Protection Forces. HRW and several U.N. reports have held them partly responsible for the rising civilian deaths and rights abuses.

Zabihullah Farhang, a spokesman for the Afghan commission, said Monday that documenting such an allegation will likely take time — and that is the initial process for an investigation. “Our workers ... even visit graveyards,” said Farhang.

Khost’s governor, Mahmand Katawazi, confirmed an operation was ongoing in Saberi by Afghan forces but denied any civilian casualties had taken place, accusing instead the Taliban of opening fire. Four members of the security force were wounded, after which the Afghan forces killed several Taliban fighters, he said.

“All those videos and photos that are claiming to be of civilians, those are not true,” claimed Katawazi.