Contained in the CIA’s secret Kabul base, burned out and deserted in haste | Afghanistan

The automobiles, minibuses and armoured automobiles that the CIA used to run its shadow conflict in Afghanistan had been lined up and incinerated past identification earlier than the Individuals left. Under their ashy gray stays, swimming pools of molten metallic had solidified into everlasting shiny puddles because the blaze cooled.

The fake Afghan village the place they educated paramilitary forces linked to a number of the worst human rights abuses of the conflict had been introduced down on itself. Solely a excessive concrete wall nonetheless loomed over the crumpled piles of mud and beams, as soon as used to practise for the extensively hated evening raids on civilian houses.

The huge ammunition dump had been blown up. Some ways to kill and maim human beings, from weapons to grenades, mortars to heavy artillery, specified by three lengthy rows of double-height transport containers, have been lowered to shards of twisted metallic. The blast from the massive detonation, which got here quickly after the bloody bomb at Kabul airport, shook and terrified the capital metropolis.

All shaped a part of the CIA compound that for 20 years was the darkish, secret coronary heart of America’s “conflict on terror”, a spot have been a number of the worst abuses to bitter the mission in Afghanistan would fester.

The sprawling hillside compound, unfold over two sq. miles north-east of the airport, grew to become notorious early on within the battle for torture and homicide at its “Salt Pit” jail, codenamed Cobalt by the CIA. The lads held there known as it the “darkish jail”, as a result of there was no gentle of their cells, the one occasional illumination coming from the headlamps of their guards.

Taliban particular forces present journalists across the deserted compound. {Photograph}: Emma Graham-Harrison/The Observer

It was right here that Gul Rahman died of hypothermia in 2002 after he was chained to a wall half-naked and left in a single day in freezing temperatures. His loss of life prompted the primary formal CIA pointers on interrogation beneath a brand new regime of torture, eviscerated in a 2014 report that discovered that the abuse didn’t present helpful intelligence.

The bottom has for twenty years been a carefully guarded secret, seen solely in satellite tv for pc images, navigated by the testimony of survivors. Now the Taliban’s particular forces have moved in and just lately, briefly, opened up the key compound to journalists.

“We need to present how they wasted all these items that would have been used to construct our nation,” mentioned Mullah Hassanain, a commander within the Taliban’s elite 313 unit, who led the tour of destroyed and burnt-out compounds, “burn pits” and incinerated automobiles, buses and armoured army automobiles.

Taliban particular forces embody suicide attackers who just lately marched via Kabul to have fun seizing the capital. Autos now emblazoned with their official “suicide squadron” emblem escorted journalists across the former CIA base.

It was a grimly ironic juxtaposition of essentially the most merciless and ruthless models on either side of this conflict, a reminder of the struggling inflicted on civilians by all combatants within the identify of upper targets, over a number of many years.

“They’re martyrdom seekers who have been liable for the assaults on vital areas of invaders and the regime. They now have management of vital areas,” mentioned a Taliban official, when requested why suicide squads have been escorting journalists, and if they might proceed to function. “It’s a very massive battalion. It’s liable for the safety of vital areas. They are going to be expanded and additional organised. Each time there’s a want, they are going to reply. They’re all the time prepared for sacrifices for our nation and the defence of our folks.”

They deliberate to make use of the CIA base for their very own army coaching, Hassanain mentioned, so this transient glimpse of the compound is more likely to be each the primary and final time the media is allowed in.

The sprawling hillside base near Kabul airport became infamous for its Salt Pit prison.
The sprawling hillside base close to Kabul airport grew to become notorious for its Salt Pit jail. {Photograph}: Emma Graham-Harrison/The Observer

The lads guarding it had already became the tiger-stripe camouflage of the previous Afghan Nationwide Directorate of Safety, the spy company as soon as answerable for looking them down.

The paramilitary models that operated right here, primarily based in barracks simply close to the positioning of the previous Salt Pit jail, included some that have been among the many most feared within the nation, mired in allegations of abuse that included extrajudicial killings of youngsters and different civilians. The barracks had been deserted so quick that the boys who lived there left meals half-finished, and barracks flooring have been suffering from possessions spilled out of emptied lockers, cleared in an obvious frenzy.

Largely that they had taken or destroyed something with names, or ranks, however there have been 01 patches, and one guide that was crammed with handwritten notes from weeks of coaching.

Close by, the positioning of the Salt Pit jail had apparently been razed a couple of months earlier. A New York Instances satellite tv for pc investigation discovered that, since spring, a cluster of buildings inside this a part of the CIA compound had been levelled.

Taliban officers mentioned they didn’t have any particulars in regards to the Salt Pit, or what had occurred to the previous jail. Rahman’s household are nonetheless looking for his physique, which has by no means been returned to them.

Different torture methods recorded on the website included “rectal feeding”, shackling prisoners to bars overhead, and depriving inmates of bathroom “privileges”, leaving them bare or carrying grownup diapers.

Building gear was deserted on the positioning, with concrete slabs half poured. Subsequent door, a constructing that had as soon as been fortified with high-tech doorways and gear had apparently been firebombed, its inside as completely destroyed and lowered to ash because the automobiles exterior.

Destroying delicate gear on the base would have been complicated, and there was proof of a number of burn pits the place all the things from medical kits and a guide on management was put to the flames, together with bigger items of apparatus.

The Taliban officers have been jumpy about letting journalists into areas that had not been formally cleared. They’d discovered a number of booby lure bombs within the rubble of the camp, Hassanain mentioned, and have been frightened that there is likely to be extra.

For days, helicopters ferried lots of of individuals from the bottom to contained in the airport, the place males from the 01 power – conscious they have been more likely to be distinguished targets for reprisals – helped safe the perimeter in return for evacuation within the ultimate hours, beneath a deal struck with the US.

Untouched close by was a recreation corridor with snooker, ping-pong, darts and desk soccer gathering mud. A field within the nook held mind teaser puzzles. It was unclear what the Taliban, as soon as so austere that they even banned chess, would do with the trimmings of western army downtime.

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