On July 13, CNN reported that the Taliban last month executed 22 Afghan special forces commandos who had surrendered in the town of Dawlat Abad in Faryab province. The story featured video purportedly showing the scene.
In the beginning of the video, unarmed men in military uniforms appear to be surrendering to armed Taliban gunmen surrounding them. Within seconds, gunfire and screaming can be heard; the bloody bodies of the men in uniform are then shown lying on the ground. CNN said it obtained several videos of the incident and verified them.
In response to the CNN story, Suheil Shaheen, an official negotiator and spokesperson for the Taliban, claimed on Twitter that the video was phony.
“A report of CNN claiming that the Mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate have killed enemy’s commando soldiers after surrendering is not true,” he wrote in a tweet. “A fake scene has been montaged with another scene of 22 commandos who had been killed during fighting in Faryab province.”
In a follow-up tweet, he wrote: “The two scenes have been photoshopped and montaged, for preparation of the report.”
These claims are likely false.
It’s important to note the heritage of the video. It was originally posted July 7 on a website called Funker530, which hosts combat footage from around the world. In accompanying text, Funker530 said the video was provided by an anonymous source that same day. Funkder350 noted that the Taliban had not claimed responsibility.
The post also claimed 10 victims, although how that was determined is unspecified.
“We have a strict policy at Funker530 of not showing executions or terrorist propaganda, but in this case, it seems that this is the opposite of Taliban propaganda,” the text reads.
“The Taliban are hoping more ANA surrender to ease their push through Afghanistan, and they would like to be taken seriously as a government organization. This footage hurts both of their goals.”
The post on Funkder350 states that at 12 seconds into the video, a man who does not appear to be one of the commandos is carrying an M16-type weapon with attachments associated with Afghan National Army special forces, specifically an ACOG sight, foregrip, and infrared laser. The man is carrying the rifle backward in his left hand, suggesting it may not be his own weapon.
The video quality is poor, and the camera begins to shake violently when the shooting begins, but it appears that the general location is the same based on the buildings and objects that can be seen before and after the shooting starts.
After the shooting, the bodies appear in roughly the same area where the men were standing. There is no obvious sign of manipulation in the video.
On July 15, CNN produced an updated report on the incident, which reportedly occurred on June 16, claiming to have spoken to five first-hand witnesses who said the surrender and executions happened as presented. According to CNN, a bystander can be heard pleading with the Taliban not to shoot the prisoners, and another man shouts at the Taliban for “killing Afghans.”
Another unexplained point – CNN’s witnesses claimed they did not understand the language being spoken by the militants who purportedly carried out the killing.
Hazir Azimi, a retired Afghan general, told CNN that one of the commandos killed was his son, Sohrab Azimi, who had been trained in the United States and was engaged to be married.
The incident was also reported by several other media outlets, including the South China Morning Post, and The Hill. A New York Times report from June 17, the day after the massacre, detailed the Taliban seizure of the town of Dawlat Abad. That report claimed 24 ANA commandos and five policemen were killed in the fighting for the town, which according to one witness quoted in the piece, lasted less than an hour after the Taliban surrounded it.
Amnesty International’s head campaigner for South Asia, Samira Hamidi, condemned the commando killings, calling them “cold-blooded murder” and a war crime.
Since the withdrawal of U.S. and other coalition military forces from Afghanistan, the Taliban has made rapid gains against the national government, prompting fears that the country is on the verge of a return to Taliban control as it existed prior to 2001.
Taliban propaganda aimed at ANA forces has encouraged surrender, promising safety, and freedom from reprisal. Reports of hundreds of ANA and local government security forces surrendering peacefully to the Taliban throughout the country suggest the strategy of amnesty may be getting results, including retrieval of U.S.-supplied weapons, equipment, and vehicles.