Gunfire erupts. At least a dozen men are shot dead amid cries of “Allahu Akhbar” — God is Great.
The victims were members of an Afghan Special Forces unit: their executioners, the Taliban. The summary killings took place on June 16 in the town of Dawlat Abad in Faryab province, close to the Afghan border with Turkmenistan.
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CNN has obtained and verified several videos of the incident and has spoken with witnesses.
Videos show the bodies of the commandos scattered around an open-air market. After a fierce battle to keep the city, the commandos ran out of ammunition and were surrounded by Taliban fighters, witnesses said.
In one video, about 45 seconds long, a bystander can be heard saying in Pashto, the local language, “Don’t shoot them, don’t shoot them, I’m begging you not to shoot them.” The bystander then asks, “How do you kill Pashtun Afghans?” The Pashtuns are the main ethnic group in Afghanistan.
At the end of the video, another voice outside the camera says, “Get everything off of them.”
In another video, a man can be heard saying, “Open his body armor.” A fighter can be seen taking equipment from the body of one of the commandos.
The Red Cross confirmed that the bodies of 22 commandos have been recovered.
The killing of the soldiers stands in stark contrast to the Taliban’s attempts to show that they accept the surrender of soldiers and, in some cases, pay them to go home while making territorial gains across Afghanistan.
The Taliban released a video showing the seizure of military trucks and weapons three days after the fighting in Dawlat Abad. The video claimed that “Washington guards, a specially trained CIA commando who was pursuing the Taliban in Dawlat Abad, Faryab, were captured alive by the Taliban, disarmed and handcuffed.”
The Taliban told CNN that the videos showing the commandos being shot were fake and that the government was making propaganda to encourage people not to surrender. A Taliban spokesman said they were still holding 24 commandos captured in Faryab province but had not provided any evidence.
The Afghan Defense Ministry denied that the Taliban were holding the commandos and told CNN they had been killed.
They ‘shot them all’
According to several witnesses interviewed by CNN in Dawlat Abad, the commandos were shot in cold blood.
One man said the commandos arrived in the city with several tanks, but after two hours of fighting, they ran out of ammunition and received no air support.
“The commandos were surrounded by the Taliban. Then they took them to the middle of the street and shot them all,” said the witness.
He also suggested that some Taliban fighters were not from the region and may have been foreigners because he couldn’t understand what they were saying when they spoke to each other.
A second witness – a shopkeeper in the bazaar where the shooting took place – agreed that some of the Taliban sounded like foreigners. He said the commandos “didn’t fight. They all raised their hands and surrendered, and (the Taliban) were just shooting.”
Another shopkeeper confirmed this story: “I was so scared when the Taliban started shooting at the commandos. Everyone was scared that day. I hid in my shop.”
He said he saw the shooting unfold through a small hole in the wall.
Local officials have criticized sending elite commandos into the city without reinforcements or air cover.
Abdul Ahad Ailbek, a member of Faryab’s provincial council, said the troops who arrived did not know what the area was and which districts the Taliban controlled.
The Taliban claims apostasy
Tens of thousands of civilians have been displaced across Afghanistan amid a spate of fighting that followed US President Joe Biden’s announcement that all US troops would be withdrawn from the country by September 11.
Since then, the Taliban claim to control nearly 200 districts in Afghanistan, mostly in the north and northwest. In many areas they encounter little resistance.
In a statement Monday, the Taliban said “thousands of soldiers” had defected and embraced the open arms of the Islamic emirate, which they claim is the true leadership of the Afghan people.
“Nearly two hundred districts were purged of their malicious presence,” the statement added.
In their statement, the Taliban claimed “fake videos and images from years-old video showing Daesh activities”. [ISIS] militias are also denounced as recent actions by the mujahideen of the Islamic emirate.”
Afghan special forces — which are US-trained and better equipped than regular units — number about 11,000. But they are being stretched as the Taliban ramp up attacks across the country.
Now without US air support or intelligence gathering, their mission is even more challenging.
Afghan troops suffer heavy casualties. CNN has received another video showing the bodies of commandos killed by the Taliban last week in another part of Faryab province.
The Red Cross confirmed that they had collected more than a dozen bodies from that location.
‘There will be no takeover’
One of the dead in Dawlat Abad was 32-year-old commando Sohrab Azimi, who spent two years at a US military school and was due to marry his American fiancée next month.
His father, a retired general, told CNN that Azimi was responsible for calling in air support. He did – but it never arrived.
“Everyone would be mad if that happened to their son. Why didn’t they support the operation and why did someone tell the Taliban they were coming?” asked General Hazir Azimi.
“Afghanistan lost someone who had an education, who was the future — I’m so sad at his loss.”
Gene. Azimi had nothing but contempt for the Taliban. “They don’t even respect corpses and soldiers who have surrendered,” he said.
Abdul Ahad Ailbek, a member of the Provincial Council, said the “Taliban are the previous Taliban. They have not changed. Unfortunately, they do not have freedom for the people.”
Afghan national security adviser Hamdullah Mohib has tried to reassure Afghans that the country will not fall into the hands of the Taliban.
“There will be no takeover by the Taliban,” Mohib said Monday. “The Afghan people are determined to defend our country, our people and our values.”
When asked about the Dawlat Abad attack, Mohib claimed that many of the recent defeats of the Afghan National Security Forces were the result of a lack of air support.
“The reality is that these were largely surrounded areas that could not be defended, they had to be resupplied by air and those soldiers were out of ammunition,” Mohib said.
“There was a vacuum created as a result of the retrograde, but we’re trying to fill that gap.”
Miller has repeatedly expressed concern about the pace of the Taliban’s territorial gains.
He says no political agreement can be reached amid the escalating violence.
“I am one of the US military officers who has had the opportunity to speak with the Taliban,” Miller said. “And I told them… it is important that the military parties create the conditions for a peaceful and political settlement in Afghanistan.
However, the citizens in Dawlat Abad who spoke to CNN seemed wary of the Taliban and their intentions once foreigners left.
Several people told CNN that the Taliban quickly introduced new rules after taking over the area. Girls could no longer go to school and women could no longer go to the market unless accompanied by a man.
A witness to the commando shooting said: “The Taliban said if foreigners left Afghanistan, they would make peace. How long will they continue to kill brothers in our country?”
Another witness to the attack said many people had left the city. He said he had one message for the Taliban.
“We are one Islam, we are one brother. Why are you killing your brothers? Come sit with us and talk about this.”
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