- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 21, 2018

An international watchdog group is accusing the Afghan military of engaging in egregious human rights violations, in some instances outright war crimes, against civilians during joint combat operations with U.S. forces in the country.

The allegations were included in a report released Wednesday by Human Rights Watch, which says Afghan troops opened fire on fleeing civilians during missions in Maiwand and Panjwai districts of the Taliban-held Kandahar province. In one instance, Afghan forces — backed by U.S. airpower — reportedly killed 20 civilians in clearing operations in the Band-e Timor area of Kandahar.

“The alleged deaths of at least twenty civilians in Band-e Timor demands a prompt and impartial investigation,” said Patricia Gossman, a senior Afghanistan researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“Summarily executing people in custody, whether they are fighters or civilians, is a war crime. Only a full investigation can uncover all who may be responsible,” she added in a statement issued by the group.

Coalition spokesman Capt. Tom Gresback confirmed to Voice of America that U.S. forces did partner with their Afghan counterparts during the operations in Band-e-Timor, but no reports of civilian casualties were passed along to command officials in Kabul.

“All of those killed in the operation were identified as Taliban fighters. A number of Taliban suspects were detained, and seven kilograms of opium seized,” he said, adding that any instance of civilian casualties will be handled “as appropriate, in Afghan courts.”

The claims of extrajudicial killings come as Washington is poised to take a more aggressive role in the 17-year Afghan war, one that will see U.S. forces more engaged in the fight against the Taliban and other extremist groups for the first time since Washington officially ended combat operations in the country four years ago.

American and NATO commanders intend to “focus on offensive operations and … look for a major effort to gain the initiative very quickly as we enter into the fighting season,” U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Joseph Votel said in an interview with The Associated Press last month.

Afghan security forces, with ramped up assistance from the U.S. and NATO-led coalition, must “keep the pressure on all the time and work to gain the upper hand as quickly as we can. So that as we get into this next fighting season, we can build on the initiative,” Gen. Votel said.

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