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2021 Feature, Medium Newsroom finalist

The CIA’s Afghan Death Squads

Organization
The Intercept

Award
Feature, Medium Newsroom

Program
2021

Entry Links
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About the Project

In March 2019, Andrew Quilty, based in Kabul, heard about a night raid by government forces that had killed civilians in a remote Afghan village. A woman and three of her children were dead. Quilty located four surviving relatives who had been wounded that night and flown to a Kabul hospital. The survivors described a terrifying attack on their house, which was leveled by air strikes that could only have come from American warplanes. Afghan commandos carried out the raid but all the survivors said Americans were with them. It wasn’t an isolated incident, they told Quilty.

Their story launched Quilty on a nearly two-year investigation that detailed 10 previously undocumented raids by a CIA-trained paramilitary unit that killed at least 51 civilians in Taliban-controlled areas. In most cases, men and boys as young as 8 were summarily executed. This was not just a story about a foreign army massacring its own people. Quilty’s investigation revealed deep CIA involvement in these units’ operations. CIA agents trained these forces, planned their raids — and participated in them.

Quilty’s reporting was painstaking. He interviewed more than 50 residents in Wardak province, where the raids took place, including 20 survivors and firsthand witnesses. Because of the risks of traveling to Taliban-controlled Wardak, he brought witnesses to Kabul by taxi. His article showed how the final act in the U.S.’s failed military strategy in Afghanistan was characterized by war crimes that directly implicated American forces.