The Era of Impunity

Western military forces killed thousands of civilians and committed war crimes in Afghanistan. Virtually no one has been brought to justice before the final withdrawal.

(Own report) - With western troops finally withdrawing from Afghanistan tomorrow, two decades of deadly western attacks on civilians and the West's systematic war crimes at the Hindu Kush will also come to an end. By the time the US withdrawal agreement was finalized with the Taliban in February 2020, hundreds of civilians had been killed annually by western armed forces' air strikes and Special Forces' operations - at least 559 in 2019 - according to the UN. Countless bystanders were killed in US drone strikes. According to documents leaked by a whistleblower, at times, only one out of ten victims of drone strikes were "targets" designated for assassination by the US military. Information needed for drone strikes has also been provided by German services to the US military, including information used by the CIA for the abductions of suspects and their torture. Australian Special Forces assassinated defenseless civilians as an initiation ritual. Western war crimes usually remained unpunished - still today.

Civilian Victims

Western armed forces at the Hindu Kush, which are about to complete their withdrawal from Afghanistan, have been regularly killing large numbers of civilians in their operations, right up to end. According to United Nations casualty statistics, in 2018, of the 3,804 civilians killed during the war in Afghanistan, at least 1,185 of them have been attributed to attacks carried out by various pro-government forces and at least 406 to operations conducted by western military forces. In 2019 the number of civilians killed by western troops increase to at least 559. A decrease could only be noted after the US had finalized a withdrawal agreement with the Taliban in February 2020. Western armed forces repeatedly conducted air strikes, which have become the subject of international media coverage, because of their large number of victims. In June 2007, for example, up to 80 people were killed - most of them civilians - in the last of a long series of air strikes in the Helmand province.[1] On May 5, 2019, at least 30 - but probably 60 or more - civilians were killed in air strikes on alleged drug-processing facilities. Whereas the USA claims that the victims were Taliban, the UN speaks of the deaths of civilian workers, women and children.[2]

"It was Tolerated"

The list could be extended. It also includes the targeted air strike ordered by the German Colonel Georg Klein on a large number of civilians on September 4, 2009. The bomb hit hundreds of people who had gathered around a bogged down oil tanker to tap gasoline for their families. Over one hundred civilians were killed. Klein had ordered the air strike against explicit warnings of a US pilot, pointing out that the crowed that had gathered were obviously not insurgents.[3] Apart from air strikes, civilians have frequently been killed in operations carried out by - often US - special forces. Referring to extensive interviews with German veterans of Afghanistan, military historian Sönke Neitzel, based in Potsdam, recently reported exceptionally high numbers of civilian victims. "If a triple-digit of civilians were killed during US Special Forces' operations, it was tolerated."[4] Troops of the German Commando Special Forces (KSK) were regularly on mission at the Hindu Kush. Whether and, if so, how many civilian victims were caused by their missions is unknown, due to the German government's strict policy of secrecy surrounding their missions.

Collateral Victims: Nine out of Ten

US drone attacks, which had been dramatically expanded under US President Barack Obama, caused numerous civilian victims. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, based in London, which for years has systematically analyzed drone attacks, now lists more than 13,000 of these attacks in Afghanistan. The number of victims has been calculated at between 4,100 and over 10,000, the number of proven civilian victims at between 300 and 900.[5] According to research by the online platform The Intercept, this would be an under-estimation. Already in October 2015, the Intercept had reported - citing documents furnished by a whistleblower - that from January 2012 to February 2013, only 35 of the more than 200 victims of the US drone campaign in northeastern Afghanistan had been listed as US targets. In the course of five months, the portion of unintentional drone victims was nearly 90 percent.[6] In June, Daniel Hale, the whistleblower, who had provided a glimpse into the abyss of US drone murders, was sentenced to a prison term of three years and nine months.[7] Data allowing the preparation of drone targeting - such as suspects' cell phone data - had also been provided to the US units by German services. Therefore, Germany is involved in the US' murders by drones.[8]

Murder as an Initiation Ritual

Deliberate groundless murders figure also among the high number of civilian victims in the course of combat operations. For example, an investigative report published in the fall of 2020, describes how members of Australia's Special Forces had killed at least 39 Afghans totally at random. One video, for example, documents how an Australian soldier murdered an Afghan civilian lying in a cornfield with three shots at point-blank range. According to the investigative report, these murders of unarmed civilians, devoid of any combat situation, were part of an initiation ritual for new members of the Australian special units, to prove their alleged combat aptitude. This is a practice known as "blooding."[9] US military personnel have also been accused of non-combat murders. Military historian Neitzel reported, for example, that according to accounts, German soldiers, including the most hardened among the KSK forces were "shocked" at how "American soldiers nonchalantly recounted, how they had executed Taliban prisoners."[10] There is clear evidence of British Special Forces having also murdered Afghan civilians.[11] Western soldiers were virtually never faced with the consequences of their arbitrary murders.

Abductions and Torture

Last but not least, numerous cases of abductions of suspects to torture chambers since autumn of 2001, within the framework of the "war on terror" have hardly been clarified and are still unpunished. That practice had also affected Afghanistan, where persons, accused - justifiably or not - of jihadi terrorist activities, were captured, abducted to dungeons, and brutally tortured. According to findings of the International Criminal Court (ICC), it can be clearly demonstrated that at least 54 individuals had been tortured, mishandled as well as submitted to sexualized violence by members of the US Armed Forces in Afghanistan. At least 24 persons can be believed to have been subjected to the same crimes by members of the CIA, according to the ICC.[12] Germany is involved in some of those cases. German services provided the USA not only information leading to the abduction and detainment, even of German citizens; but officials of German intelligence services - Federal Intelligence Service (BND), Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (VS) - as well as of the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA) had interrogated the abductees in the torture chambers in Afghanistan, including Khaled el-Masri from Ulm,[13] and Ahmad S. from Hamburg.[14] Murat Kurnaz, from Bremen, has reported that he had not only been imprisoned and tortured, in a US camp in Kandahar, but even beaten by KSK soldiers, which the German military and government denies. However, other more unbiased witnesses have confirmed Kurnaz' version.


[1] Jason Burke: 'Up to 80 civilians dead' after US air strikes in Afghanistan. 01.07.2007.

[2] UNAMA Special Report: Airstrikes on alleged drug-processing facilities. Farah, 5 May 2019. Kabul, October 2019.

[3] See also Die Bomben von Kunduz.

[4] Sönke Neitzel: Deutsche Krieger. Vom Kaiserreich zur Berliner Republik - eine Militärgeschichte. Berlin 2020. S. 547.

[5] Strikes in Afghanistan.

[6] Jeremy Scahill: The Assassination Complex. 15.10.2015.

[7] Chip Gibbons: Daniel Hale Went to Prison for Telling the Truth About US Drone Warfare. 05.08.2021.

[8] See also Proposed for Killing.

[9] Matthew Doran: Afghanistan war crimes report released by Defence Chief Angus Campbell includes evidence of 39 murders by special forces. 19.11.2020. See also Bilanz von 18 Jahren.

[10] Sönke Neitzel: Deutsche Krieger. Vom Kaiserreich zur Berliner Republik - eine Militärgeschichte. Berlin 2020. S. 547.

[11] Panorama Investigation: War crimes scandal exposed. 17.11.2019.

[12] Situation in Afghanistan. Summary of the Prosecutor's Request for authorisation of an investigation pursuant to article 15. International Criminal Court. 20 November 2017.

[13] See also Wer ist "Sam", der deutsche Foltergesandte?

[14] Hans Leyendecker: "Hochkonkret" oder "abstrakt"? 01.11.2010.

[15] Brite bestätigt: KSK misshandelte Kurnaz. 24.01.2008.