December 17, 2008
Human rights groups have called on US-led forces to secure a mass grave in northern Afghanistan that may contain evidence of a major war crime.
Dasht-e-Leili is allegedly the burial location of as many as 2,000 prisoners who surrendered to US Special Forces in November 2001 after the fall of the Taliban in the Afghan city of Kunduz. According to reports, US troops and allied Afghan groups had jailed the prisoners in cargo containers, where they suffocated, and then buried them at the site.
A human rights group discovered the grave in 2002 and has performed autopsies on some of the bodies. In July 2008, two large holes three meters (10 feet) deep were found at the site, which may have been dug in order to remove evidence.
The United Nations confirmed the earth disturbances following a McClatchy Newspapers report last week that said three new holes were dug at the site in November.
On Monday, the United Nations pledged to help Afghan authorities secure the site, but the international body does not have security forces in the war-torn country.
Meanwhile, the deputy director of the US-based NGO Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), Susannah Sirkin, has said that the US and its NATO allies should immediately secure the site and post guards to protect it round the clock.
“Also, the US bears a minimum responsibility for ensuring the protection of prisoners who had been captured and imprisoned by its allies,” Sirkin asserted, adding, “We don’t know if American forces were at the site or present when these people died, but we do know that they were present during the surrender and the handover of the prisoners.”
Human rights groups have demanded that the US government provide a declassified analysis of the satellite imagery of the site from November 2001 to the present and make the images available to the Afghan government, the United Nations, and the US Congress.
A US-led invasion ousted the Taliban in 2001 and launched the so-called “war on terror” — which has brought more than 70,000 troops, mainly from the US, to Afghanistan.
Recently, US-led coalition forces have admitted that they are ‘far from victory in Afghanistan’.
The long-term occupation of Afghan territory by the US and its allies, their indisrciminate bombings and the resultant civilian casualties, and the lack of social and political reform have only exacerbated the situation in the war-ravaged country.
“Afghanistan” literally means “land of the sorrowful” or “land of the miserable” in the Persian language.
And after over 30 years of war, many say that Afghanistan truly has become the “land of the sorrowful”.
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