Home News Investigating Monsters: What We Found and How We Did It

Investigating Monsters: What We Found and How We Did It


The only thing likely to be faster than the U.S. withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan is how quickly the world is moving forward.

The Biden administration has largely stopped talking about the issue. When the Taliban took over, most news organizations had scaled back their coverage in Afghanistan.

But a question remains that is as fundamental as it is broad.

How did things come to this? The United States invaded Afghanistan to eliminate this organization, but why did it return to power in the end?

With the war over, The New York Times finally had access to people and places that had been off-limits during the war to find out what had really happened.

We discovered that one of America’s most important partners in the war against the Taliban—a prominent general named Abdul Raziq—carried out a systematic campaign of enforced disappearances that resulted in hundreds of Even thousands died.

General Raziq’s story is more than just one of tragedy and loss in a familiar, distant war. Across Afghanistan, the United States has promoted and empowered warlords, corrupt politicians, and outright criminals to wage a war of military expediency in which the ends often justify the means.

This helps explain America’s failure.

General Raziq is the police chief responsible for security throughout Kandahar. Over the years, the U.S. military has regarded him as a brave warrior and a loyal partner. American generals have come to pay homage to him.

But the Times found that his battlefield prowess was built on years of torture, extrajudicial killings and the largest campaign of enforced disappearances during America’s 20-year war in Afghanistan.

We obtained hundreds of pages of accounting books belonging to the former U.S.-backed government. From this, we found that in Kandahar Province alone, there were nearly 2,200 suspected disappearance cases, with families reporting missing relatives.

From this list, we gathered detailed evidence of 368 cases of enforced disappearances and dozens of extrajudicial killings that victims’ families, eyewitnesses, and official records attribute to the United States under General Razik. Support the troops.

This is almost certainly a gross underestimate. The New York Times documented only cases confirmed by at least two people. Many families who report their loved ones missing cannot be found, and many never file complaints.

A mechanic and a rickshaw puller. Tailors and taxi drivers. The human statistics help explain why many Afghans embraced the Taliban so quickly after U.S. troops withdrew.

“None of us support the Taliban, at least not at first,” said Fazul Rahman, whose brother was kidnapped. “But when the government fell, I ran through the streets with joy.”

When the Taliban took over the country, they inherited almost everything that belonged to the U.S.-backed government, including computers, rickety office chairs and even teacups.

They also inherited documents, at least those that had not been destroyed.

The New York Times obtained and combed through a decade of handwritten ledgers provided to us by the Taliban, spanning 2011 to the fall of the U.S.-backed Afghan republic in 2021.

Local Times researchers used the ledgers as clues to find families of missing people. Each person is asked to fill out a form with details of the disappearance and provide records to substantiate the claim: police reports, affidavits, medical files, government documents, etc.

We spoke to nearly 1,000 families and narrowed it down to hundreds of verified cases of enforced disappearance.

In each case, the person remains missing.

General Raziq is one of the United States’ most important allies in Afghanistan. When he was in charge of troops in Kandahar, he successfully defeated the Taliban there.

He has been dogged by accusations of human rights abuses. But Americans supported him until the end.

When he was shot and killed by an undercover Taliban assassin in 2018, he stood next to Gen. Austin S. Miller, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, who praised him as a “great friend” and “patriot”.

He is seen as the only partner capable of defeating the Taliban in the heart of the insurgency.

“We knew what we were doing, but we thought we had no choice,” said Henry Ensher, a former State Department official.

But many Afghans say Gen. Raziq has used his position and U.S. support to pursue personal vendettas and decades-long tribal rivalries. To many ordinary citizens, General Razik was a cruel hand at the hands of the U.S. government. Even the Taliban seemed preferable.

Like many things about the war in Afghanistan, former senior U.S. officials say they never really understood it.

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