Afghan soldiers executed a man they suspected of belonging to the Taliban by making him sit on an improvised explosive device (IED) before it exploded. A video published on July 16 captured the scene in the southeast of the country. Afghan journalist Naseeb Zadran told the FRANCE 24 Observers that the extrajudicial execution is far from an isolated case, and reflects the impunity enjoyed by the Afghan Army.
Warning: This article contains violent images and descriptions that some readers may find disturbing.
Around 12 seconds into the two-and-a-half minute video published on TikTok, we hear a gunshot, followed by a huge explosion 23 seconds in. A heavy cloud of grey smoke rises to the sky, as some debris is thrown dozens of metres away from the explosion.
Soldiers in Afghan Army uniforms erupt in shouts of joy, congratulating their commander for his “bravery”. The person recording the video turns the camera toward a body part lying on the side of the road, before moving toward another several metres farther away.
“Here is the body of the motherf****r, this will be the fate of these people,” says the soldier filming, referring to the Taliban, as a colleague tells him not to record.
Before the video cuts off, the soldier turns the camera toward the supposed commander, who says: “Anyone who destroys national properties or facilities will share the same fate.”
Where and when did the incident take place?
Thanks to information and additional videos shared by Afghan journalist Naseeb Zadran, the FRANCE 24 Observers team was able to verify and geolocate this video.
The incident took place on July 8 on NH19 road, around 30 kilometres south of the city of Sharan, the capital of Paktika province. The Afghan Army and the Taliban have been in fierce conflict in this region of southeast Afghanistan for weeks, resulting in numerous casualties on both sides, including army commanders and local officials.
A building that shows up in the background of the video is a restaurant along NH19. The same restaurant appears in Google Street View imagery from 2019, when it was painted a different colour.
Locals attest that the execution occurred on July 8. Using visible shadows and the angle of the sun in the video, the FRANCE 24 Observers team was able to estimate that the incident likely took place between 9 and 10am on this day.
Victim beaten by anti-Taliban militia before being handed over to the army
The victim of this execution was named Barakatullah, according to Naseeb Zadran who spoke to locals. The man was severely beaten by Afghan police and anti-Taliban militia before being handed over to the Afghan soldiers who forced him to sit on the IED.
Zadran also received another video, 30 seconds in length, in which dozens of civilians beat the victim, hitting him with sticks and kicking him on the ground as soldiers look on. The army commander who appeared in the first video is also visible at this scene.
‘If you ask any villager, they will tell you that their homes were built by Barakatullah’
Naseeb Zadran recorded a short interview with Miakhan, said to be the father of the victim, which he published on Twitter. In the video, he explains in Pashto, a language of Afghanistan:
He was a poor worker. He was a construction worker in the Sar Hawza area. All the villagers know him. If you ask any villager, they will tell you that their homes were built by Barakatullah.
The Afghan National Army discovered an IED under a bridge [Editor’s note: seen in the video] in the Parao area. Barakatullah happened to cross the road there.
The soldiers and the militias thought that he was sent by the Taliban [to detonate the IED] and they mobbed and beat him viciously. After they beat him up, he was forced to sit on the IED they had unearthed and they detonated it while he was directly above it.
The FRANCE 24 Observers team was not able to independently verify the testimony of this man, nor if he is indeed the father of the victim.
‘Terrorist Taliban propaganda’, says Afghan ministry of defence
Local residents were able to identify the Afghan Army commander seen in the video as Sergeant Nasratullah Zadran, according to Naseeb Zadran and confirmed by FRANCE 24.
Fawad Aman, a spokesperson for the Afghan ministry of defence contacted by the FRANCE 24 Observers team, denied that the incident took place. He called the video “terrorist Taliban propaganda”, and said that "the soldiers of the Afghan Army are the true and honest children of Afghanistan [who] fight and die every day for the Afghan people”.
The family of the victim has filed a suit against the Afghan Army, but they are not optimistic about the outcome, according to Naseeb Zadran.
‘Most victims in these rural areas don’t know how to speak out’
This example of an extrajudicial execution is not an isolated case, said Naseeb Zadran:
I have received videos of bodies burned by the Afghan Army, but these stories don’t find their way to the Afghan media. Most of Afghan media companies are less interested in covering the army’s violence, they only cover one side of the story: What the Taliban are doing. If some journalists dare to investigate, the Afghan intelligence agency arrests them.
Unfortunately, this kind of violence is not unprecedented or even rare. And on top of that, most of the victims in these rural areas are not educated, they have no idea of their rights and don’t know how to speak out.
The problem in the Afghan Army comes, first, because there is no proper system of checks and balances in recruitment. There are many powerful ethnic groups and tribes represented in the army, such as Abdul Raziq in Qandahar and Aziz Ullah Karwan in Paktik [Editor’s note: Both men have been killed but their tribal groups are still active]. The government is unwilling to control them and question their operations.
The second problem is that there has been no prior example of someone in the army being punished by the justice system for having killed a civilian, so the security forces take advantage of this lack of will.
Third, not only Afghans but also NATO forces have committed similar crimes. In Uruzgan province, there were 37 civilians killed by Australian forces [Editor’s note: A four-year inquiry found “credible evidence” of 37 cases of unlawful killing], so the Afghan Army learns from them and dares to do the same.
For the past two months, Taliban militants have been gaining ground and occupying more and more regions in Afghanistan. The extremist group claims that they control over 85 percent of the country, including strategic posts at the border with Iran, earning them over $20 million per month in customs duties.
However, the government still controls more populated regions of Afghanistan, accounting for more than 50 percent of the population, according to estimates.