'CIA-backed Afghan paramilitary groups operating with impunity are summarily executing civilians during botched nighttime raids and are responsible for the disappearances of suspects, a rights group claimed.
The secretive militias, whose support from America's Central Intelligence Agency continues a tradition stemming from the Soviet-Afghan war of the 1980s, have long hunted the Taliban and are seen as an important tool as the war against the insurgents intensifies.
But their rough tactics have long sparked controversy across Afghanistan.
In a report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) documented 14 cases from late 2017 to mid-2019 in which it said CIA-backed 'strike groups' committed serious abuses during night raids, such as one in the southeastern province of Paktia in which a paramilitary unit killed 11 men, including eight who were home for the Eid holidays.
The CIA disputed the HRW report, saying many of the claims against Afghan militias were 'likely false or exaggerated'.
In several cases, the raids - usually in Taliban-controlled areas - were accompanied by air strikes that 'indiscriminately or disproportionately' killed civilians, HRW said, and sometimes, troops detained men and didn't tell families where they were being held.
One diplomat referred to the paramilitaries as 'death squads', according to HRW.
The rights group called for the militias to be disbanded following the accusations of extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, indiscriminate air strikes and other rights abuses.
According to data released this week by NATO, the US conducted 1,113 air and artillery strikes in September, a big increase on previous months that came as talks between the US and the Taliban collapsed.
Night raids - where special forces troops blast doors and rush a building under the cover of dark - are a popular tactic that combines surprise, overwhelming firepower and night-vision equipment to stun occupants.
'They are illustrative of a larger pattern of serious laws-of-war violations - some amounting to war crimes - that extends to all provinces in Afghanistan where these paramilitary forces operate with impunity,' the group said in a report.
The CIA-backed paramilitary forces are notorious in Afghanistan, often drawing complaints from villagers and district authorities for their brutal raids, often under the cover of night.'
Read more: CIA-backed Afghan 'death squads' are accused of executing civilians, carrying out indiscriminate air strikes and committing human rights abuses
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