Omnishambles in Kabul
With US forces leaving Afghanistan, we are seeing the devastating consequences of a counterintelligence program coming undone in Kabul and other cities
After the Afghan National Defence & Security Forces (ANDSF) suffered a series of stunning collapses and defections, the Taliban are back in control of Afghanistan.
As they gained control of province after province this past month, disturbing reports began trickling in from those provinces. Soldiers of ANDSF are being tracked and executed by the Taliban in places like Kandahar.
Members of the Special Operations Forces (SOFs) and Pilots of the ANDSF appear to be high priority targets for the Taliban.
Senior commanders of the ANDSF are also being targeted.
The Taliban are going door to door.
The systematic manner in which they’re going about doing this suggests they have taken control of personnel records of the previous government, a distinct possibility since the speed with which it collapsed would have prevented an orderly disposal of such documents.
In addition to soldiers and Afghans who served the previous government, the Taliban are also tracking down Afghans who worked with the United States Government (USG) in roles such as interpreters.
But there’s another aspect beyond government documents that has a bearing on the speed with which the Taliban are identifying and executing people who worked with USG.
The Afghan biometrics program was established in 2009.
It’s objective was:
to collect the fingerprints, iris scans, and facial images of Afghan national security forces.
By 2011, 300,000 Afghans had been enrolled into the program. This included soldiers, policemen, and interpreters. Anyone who ever worked with USG had their fingerprints and iris scans in this system. Even prisoners. Latent fingerprints were also lifted from battlefields and fed into the database.
The idea was to prevent Taliban or their sympathisers from infiltrating the ANDSF and getting close to USG personnel.
The system allows the Afghans to thoroughly screen applicants and recruits for any potential negative past history or criminal linkages, while at the same time it provides an additional measure of security at checkpoints and major facilities to prevent possible entrance and access by malign actors in Afghanistan
This system was used by USG in Iraq before being deployed in Afghanistan, and it seems at least a few within the US Army were prescient about the biometrics system becoming a hitlist in the wrong hands.
"This database," Lt. Col. John Velliquette, an Army biometrics manager in Iraq, tells Danger Room, "becomes is a hit list if it gets in the wrong hands." A parallel case could be made for Afghanistan.
And those fears turned out to be true. The Taliban appear to have gained access to the biometrics system as far back as 2016. In May-June of that year, the Taliban ambushed multiple buses travelling on the Kunduz-Baghlan highway.
The buses were ordered to pull over, and everyone inside was made to disembark. They initially took 200 hostages, and 10 people were executed on the spot. Two more were killed later.
The Taliban identified ANDSF personnel travelling home on leave through their fingerprints.
The passengers said Taliban had a machine which checked their fingerprints. Most of the passengers were not familiar with the machine but we knew it was a biometric device that could identify security force members from amongst civilians
The contractor responsible for maintaining the system seems to have fled without destroying the database. The system is now being used by the Taliban today to hunt down anyone who collaborated with the erstwhile Afghan government and USG. It is being used at checkpoints established throughout Kabul to scan and identify collaborators.
And while executions haven’t begun at a large scale in Kabul, the Taliban are visiting houses and marking them with the promise that they’ll return later to deal with them.
The withdrawal has been a real omnishambles. And it will get a lot bloodier for Afghans very soon.
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