. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rights Group Ties U.S. to Warlords' Atrocities

KABUL, Afghanistan -- U.S.-backed warlords are creating "a climate of fear" in Afghanistan that is threatening efforts to draft a new constitution and may derail landmark national elections expected next year, a human rights group said.

In a new report, Human Rights Watch accused soldiers and police loyal to powerful warlords -- many of whom are in the government -- of kidnapping, extortion, robbery and the rape of women, girls and boys. The New York-based rights group also detailed numerous death threats against journalists and low-level politicians who have spoken out against authorities.

"If allowed to continue with impunity, these abuses will make it impossible for Afghans to create a modern, democratic state," the rights group said.

President Hamid Karzai's administration has been struggling to rebuild this war-shattered country and expand central government authority outside the capital. Most of Afghanistan, however, is controlled by warlords who rule as they see fit and control huge private armies of their own. Karzai appointed many of them as governors because they already controlled areas in the wake of the Taliban's collapse in late 2001.

Karzai's government is supposed to draft a new constitution in October and government officials are traveling through the countryside to solicit public views to incorporate into the document. National elections to choose a new head of state are scheduled for June 2004.

Most abuses detailed in the 101-page report were "ordered, committed or condoned by government personnel in Afghanistan," the rights group said. Testimony from victims and witnesses implicates soldiers and police serving senior officials, including Defense Minister Mohammed Fahim, Education Minister Yunus Qanooni, former President Burhanuddin Rabbani and Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, a powerful former leader of the mujahedin.

The report also details abuses against women and girls and warns that threats, violence, political intimidation, attacks and "resurgent religious fundamentalism" were keeping countless women indoors and millions of girls out of school.

Human Rights Watch called for the expansion of the 5,000-strong international peacekeeping force beyond the capital, a move few foreign powers support. At the same time, the rights group urged Karzai's government to "sideline and pressure abusive leaders" who it said had "essentially hijacked the country."

Most of the warlords now in power were backed by the United States and its allies in the war that toppled the Taliban in late 2001, and many of them work as allies alongside U.S. troops in the country today.

Brad Adams, executive director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch, said the overall human rights situation appeared to be worsening, in part because of U.S. and other allied support for warlords.