The Castle of Death: What Really Happened in Qalai Janghi

How did US and British special forces come to be involved in the massacre of at least 150 prisoners of war – and maybe as many as 400 – who should have been protected under the Geneva Convention? In terms of numbers, Qalai Janghi could be the worst massacre to have come to light in Afghanistan since the US bombing began. Why did the US quell a prison revolt by bombing the prison from the air?

How did US and British special forces come to be involved in the massacre of at least 150 prisoners of war – and maybe as many as 400 – who should have been protected under the Geneva Convention? In terms of numbers, Qalai Janghi could be the worst massacre to have come to light in Afghanistan since the US bombing Began. Why did the US quell a prison revolt by bombing the prison from the air?


It was on Saturday that what started as the relatively peaceful surrender of the northern Afghan Taliban
stronghold of Kunduz suddenly started to go out of
control inside the fort.

Before the eyes of Western reporters, two foreign Taliban prisoners, in the process of being registered by the Red Cross, detonated hand grenades, killing themselves and two senior aides to General Dostum.


It was not the first time that we had heard of bin Laden’s "foreigners" committing suicide rather than be taken alive. But there were always fears that the stories might have been invented to cover up Northern Alliance massacres of the foreign
fighters.


Some sources said yesterday that there were as few as 50 men guarding up to 400 dangerous prisoners. Qalai Janghi is not only a prison. The 100-year-old fort is, literally, an arsenal bristling with heavy-duty
armaments.


Ghaisuddin was on sentry duty at the gate to the inner courtyard when the revolt began. He says the soldiers had brought the prisoners out of the basement of the prison building, which lay in the centre of the courtyard, and into the open light in order to search them.

Ghaisuddin says prisoners who had been searched and were found to be clean had their arms tied behind their backs above the elbow with their own black turbans – the state in which some of the bodies were found.

"Suddenly the prisoners waiting to be
searched attacked our men," says Ghaisuddin.
"They had knives hidden in their clothes and they killed 14 of our men. We fought back, but even
with a gun one man cannot fight off 40, and they
just kept coming." This took place at about
11:15am local time.


Down in the courtyard, Ghaisuddin continues: "They took the Kalashnikovs from the soldiers they had killed and started firing. We had to flee."

Next, Olivier Martin of the International Red Cross
described hearing rocket fire coming from the
courtyard where the prisoners were being held.


What then ensued appears to be something of a shambles. British SAS troops and American Special Forces were deployed to the fortress in large numbers to help the Afghan soldiers who were being
overwhelmed by the Taliban.


On Sunday, at about 3.30pm, the roar of US fighter jets could be heard, and at least four bombs were dropped from the air on the southern part of the fort.


Later on Sunday night, the Pentagon confirmed that five US personnel had been injured in a "friendly fire" incident when a 500lb bomb
went off course and ploughed into the fort’s
battlements, where Northern Alliance troops were
posted.


On Monday morning, those prisoners not killed by air strikes or by the pounding of the Northern Alliance, were reported to be holding out. A hard core of 100, 30 of them armed with rocket Launchers, were holed up inside a crumbling tower.

American bombing continued throughout the day and into the night. One hit the armoury and the ammunition store exploded in a burst of fireworks visible eight miles away in Mazar-i-Sharif.


Surviving Taliban prisoners made at least two attempts to escape, but were killed as they fled.


Early on Tuesday morning, low-flying American AC-130 gunships pounded the citadel within the fort, but by dawn the Northern Alliance forces on the ground were still taking casualties.


The Northern Alliance, on the advice of the US Special Forces and the SAS, poured oil into the basement of the building and set fire to it, forcing those remaining prisoners holed up in the lower parts of the fort to move upstairs.


The Northern Alliance troops then drove a huge Russian-made tank through the gates of the fortress, crushing the corpses of Pakistani and Arab fighters lying in the courtyard.


The tank fired off four rounds aimed at the small building where the remaining Taliban fighters were holding out. The distance was no more than 20 metres, and the building was reduced to rubble in seconds.


The prisoners were dead.


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Author: Justin Huggler

News Service: The Independent (UK) – 30 November 2001

URL: http://www.independent.co.uk/story.jsp?story=107563