Tuesday, October 19

Inside the secret CIA base in Kabul, burned and abandoned after the US withdrawal

Cars, minibuses and armored vehicles from the CIA’s shadow war in Afghanistan were placed one behind the other to be set ablaze and avoid identification before US troops left the country. Beneath the ash-gray remnants, the molten metal had solidified as it cooled, forming a kind of permanent glowing puddles.

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The bogus Afghan village where paramilitary forces linked to some of the worst human rights violations of the war were trained was shattered. On the piles of mud and remains of beams, only a high concrete wall remained standing, used in its day to practice the detested night raids on civilian houses.

The large ammunition depot was also destroyed. Pistols, grenades, mortars and heavy artillery … The weapons, arranged in three long rows of double-height shipping containers, were reduced to fragments of twisted metal. The massive detonation, which occurred shortly after the bloody Kabul airport bombing, shook and terrorized the capital.

It was all part of the CIA base in Afghanistan, which for 20 years was the dark and secret heart of America’s “war on terror,” and where some of the worst abuses committed by the US mission were hatched.

Situated on a hillside northeast of the airport and spanning three square kilometers, the complex was notorious for torture and murder committed inside its “Salt Pit” prison. [Hoyo de sal], whose code name used by the CIA was Cobalt.

The inmates called it the dark prison because there was no light in their cells. The only occasional illumination came from the guards’ flashlights.

It was there that Gul rahman He died of hypothermia in 2002 after he was chained half naked to a wall and left overnight in freezing temperatures. His death led to the first formal CIA interrogation orders establishing a new torture regime, as can be seen from a 2014 report that concluded that torture did not provide useful information.

In the hands of the Taliban

For two decades this base has been a closely guarded secret, only visible in satellite photos and reconstructed through the testimony of survivors. Now, the special forces of the Taliban have entered this place, which they have opened to journalists for a short period of time.

“We want to show how they have wasted all these things that could have served to build our country,” says Mullah Hassanain, commander of the elite Taliban unit 313. He leads the visit through the burned and destroyed precincts, through the fire pits used for the remains, and for the cars, buses and armored military vehicles that have been cremated.

These Taliban special forces include the group of suicide bombers who recently marched through Kabul celebrating the capture of the capital. Vehicles bearing the official “suicide squad” logo escort journalists through the former CIA base.

The scene became a terribly ironic combination of the most cruel and ruthless units on both sides of the war. A reminder of the suffering that all combatants have inflicted on civilians for several decades on behalf of higher-ranking targets.

“They are willing to be martyrs and were responsible for attacks against important places of the invaders and the regime; now they have control of key places,” says a Taliban official when asked why suicide squads escort journalists and if they are going to continue operating.

“They will expand and improve their organization, whenever there is a need, they will respond, they are always ready to sacrifice for our country and for the defense of our people.”

Destroyed months ago

This brief look at the former CIA base is likely to be the first and last time the media is allowed. According to Hassanain, the plan is to use it for his own military training. The men guarding her have already donned the tiger-striped camouflage used by the Afghan National Security Directorate, the spy agency that was once in charge of hunting them down.

Some of the paramilitary units operating here, based out of barracks near the former Salt Pit prison, were among the most feared in the country, accused of abuses and extrajudicial executions of children and other civilians.

The people who lived in the barracks abandoned them so quickly that they left the food halfway. The ground was littered with belongings strewn about. The lockers were emptied in an apparent frenzy.

For the most part, the American members of the mission in Afghanistan had taken or destroyed everything that had names or positions, but patches of the so-called Force 01 and a handwritten book full of notes about weeks of training were left behind.

Nearby, the Salt Pit jail had apparently been razed a few months earlier. A newspaper satellite investigation The New York Times He discovered that several buildings in this part of the CIA base had been destroyed since the spring.

Taliban officials have said they had no details about the old jail or what happened to it. Rahman’s family keep looking for her body. They never returned it. The torture techniques that took place there included “rectal feeding”, the chaining of prisoners to bars placed above their heads, and the withdrawal of the “privilege” of going to the bathroom. They were left naked or in adult diapers.

Reduced to ashes

The team left the site with half-built concrete slabs. Next to it, a fortified building with doors and high-tech equipment had apparently been demolished with firebombs. Its interior was as destroyed and reduced to ashes as the cars outside.

Destroying sensitive equipment at the base must not have been easy. There was evidence of various fire pits in which everything from medical kits to a leadership manual, along with larger pieces, were burned.

Taliban officials were reluctant to pass journalists in areas that had not been officially cleared. According to Hassanain, several booby traps had been found in the rubble. They were concerned that there would be more.

For days, the helicopters transported hundreds of people from the CIA base to the interior of the airport, where the men of Force 01, aware that they would likely be priority targets during the Taliban retaliation, helped cordon off the perimeter to change to be evacuated in the last hours, under an agreement reached with the United States.

In the immediate vicinity and undamaged, there is a recreation room with billiards, table tennis, darts and foosball tables, where dust is already collecting. In one corner there is a box with a puzzle. The Taliban were so austere before that they even banned chess. It is not clear what they will do now with the games with which the Western military killed their free time.

Translated by Francisco de Zárate


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