Afshar Operation

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Afshar Operation
Location Kabul, Afshar District
Date 10–11 February 1993
Target Hezb-i Wahdat headquarters, the Kabul Social Science Institute, and Hezb-i Wahdat leader Abdul Ali Mazari who in alliance with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar was shelling densely populated civilian neighborhoods in northern Kabul from Afshar
Deaths ca. 70 dead during the street fighting, 700-750 disappeared (abducted by Sayyaf's Ittihad)
Perpetrators Abdul Rasul Sayyaf's Ittihad-i Islami and ISA (Islamic State of Afghanistan) forces
Motive stop the bombardment campaign of Hezb-i Wahdat based in Afshar, capture the political and military headquarters of Hezb-i Wahdat and capture Abdul Ali Mazari, the leader of Hezb-i Wahdat

The Afshar Operation was a military operation by Ahmad Shah Massoud and Burhanuddin Rabbani's Islamic State of Afghanistan government forces and Abdul Rasul Sayyaf's Ittehad-i Islami forces against Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-i Islami and Abdul Ali Mazari's Hezb-e Wahdat militias in the densely populated Afshar district in west Kabul. The Iran-backed Hezb-e Wahdat together with the Pakistani-backed Hezb-i Islami of Hekmatyar had been shelling densely populated areas in northern Kabul from their positions in Afshar, killing thousands. To counter the shelling, Islamic State forces attacked Afshar in order to capture the positions of Wahdat, capture Wahdat's leader Abdul Ali Mazari and to consolidate parts of the city controlled by the government. At the time the Ittihad-i Islami para-military party of Abdul Rasul Sayyaf was allied to the Rabbani government.

The operation became an urban war zone and escalated into the Afshar massacre when Abdul Rasul Sayyaf's Sunni Wahhabi Ittihad committed "repeated human butchery"[1] turning against the Shi'ite Muslims.[2] Reports emerged that Sayyaf's Wahhabist forces backed by Saudi Arabia rampaged through Afshar, murdering, raping and burning homes.[3][4] Both the Hezb-e Wahdat and the Ittihad-i Islami had been involved in systematic abduction campaigns against civilians of the "opposite side", a pattern Ittihad continued in Afshar. Besides Ittihad commanders, two of the nine Islamic State commanders on the ground, Anwar Dangar (who later defected to the Taliban) and Mullah Izzat, were also named as leading troops that carried out abuses. Reports describe looting, arrests of about 700 Iranian agents (Pasdaran) supporting Wahdat and indiscriminate shelling by Abdul Sayyaf´s men. In one instance fleeing civilians in the streets were hit by fire from Jamiat-i Islami (Islamic State forces) soldiers. At the same time it was reported that in another incidence Jamiat troops carried a wounded Afshar civilian to safety and that some commanders on the ground tried to stop abuses from taking place.[citation needed]

The Islamic State's Defense Minister Ahmad Shah Massoud ordered an immediate halt to the crimes on the second day of the operation, but especially looting and the destruction of houses continued to take place for a second day. Massoud then appointed a Shi'ite commander to ensure the safety of the Shi'ite civilian population in Afshar. However, this Shia officer Hussain Anwari himself became infamous for terrorizing both Shia civilians and depopulating Pashtun civilians, who were also raped and assaulted.[citation needed]

He also ordered the withdrawal of all offensive troops and persuaded Sayyaf to do the same. The Islamic State government in collaboration with the then enemy militia of Hezb-e Wahdat as well as in cooperation with Afshar civilians established a commission to investigate the crimes that had taken place in Afshar. The commission paid ransoms for approximately 80 to 200 people held by several Ittihad commanders. But 700-750 people abducted by Ittihad during the campaign were never returned, and were presumably killed or died in captivity."[4] The same commission received information that many women were abducted during the operation, but said that few families would report it.[2] However, it should be noted that the Afshar operation proceeded with Massoud's approval, although he disapproved of Sayaf's methods.

The Afshar operation, which saw hundreds of Sunni Pashtuns and Shia Hazaras systemically raped, targeted, and depopulated from villages in the area by Ittihad-i-Islami and Hezb-e Wahdat, was the first such sectarian incident in Afghanistan's modern history.

Ittihad leader Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, who has been enjoying complete immunity, is currently serving his second term as a member of Afghanistan's national parliament.[citation needed]

Background and Objectives[edit]

On April 26, the mujahedin leaders announced a new peace and power-sharing agreement, the Peshawar Accords.[1] During the period discussed in this article, the sovereignty of Afghanistan was vested formally in the "Islamic State of Afghanistan," an entity created in April 1992, after the fall of the Soviet-backed Najibu lah government through the Peshawar Accords.[4] The legitimate representatives of the government were President Burhanuddin Rabbani and minister of defense Ahmad Shah Massoud.[4]

With the exception of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-i Islami which to a very large extent was controlled by the regime in Pakistan, all parties were ostensibly unified under this government in 1993.[4] Hekmatyar shelled Kabul with tens of thousands of rockets in 1992 to gain power for himself.[1] Gulbuddin Hekmatyar repeatedly was offered the position of prime minister but he did not want to share power.

After several at first successful but then failed attempts of mediation by Ahmad Shah Massoud[5] a brutal war broke out between the Saudi-backed Ittihad-e-Islami of Abdul Rasul Sayyaf and the Hezb-i Wahdat of Abdul Ali Mazari. According to Human Rights Watch numerous Iranian agents were assisting Wahdat forces, as Iran was attempting to maximize Wahdat's military power and influence in the new government.[6] Saudi agents, private or governmental, were trying to strengthen Sayyaf and his Ittihad faction to the same end.[6] Rare ceasefires, usually negotiated by representatives of Massoud, Mujaddidi or Rabbani, or officials from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), commonly collapsed within days.[6]

In December 1992 Abdul Ali Mazari's Wahdat entered in an alliance with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.[4] With his newly created alliance with Hezb-i Wahdat, Hekmatyar increased his rockets and shell attacks on the city.[1] Human Rights Watch concludes:

Shells and rockets fell everywhere.[1]

The Afghanistan Justice Project gives the following objectives for the military operation:

There were two tactical objectives to the operation. First, Massoud intended, through the operation to capture the political and military headquarters of Hezb-i Wahdat [...] and to capture Abdul Ali Mazari, the leader of Hezb-i Wahdat. Second, the ISA [the Islamic State of Afghanistan with defense minister Massoud] intended to consolidate the areas of the capital directly controlled by Islamic State forces by linking up parts of west Kabul controlled by Ittihad-i Islami with parts of central Kabul controlled by Jamiat-i Islami. Given the political and military context of Kabul at the time, these two objectives (which were largely attained during the operation) provide a compelling explanation of why the Islamic State forces attacked Afshar.[7]

Ahmad Shah Massoud did not want crimes to take place during the operation.[8] A journalist from the Associated Press and The Economist who was present in Kabul and Afshar during that time reports:

When Iran-backed [Wahdat] Hazara militiamen who had also been involved in ethnic cleansing and were allied to Hekmatyar began shelling Kabul's northwestern neighborhoods, Massoud worried aloud to his aides that driving them from their positions would risk allowing some of his allies' camp followers [notably those of Abdul Rasul Sayyaf] to commit atrocities against Hazara captives. On the other hand, he noted, the alternative was to allow Hazara militiamen to continue shelling much more heavily populated araeas, and killing many more noncombatants,on the other side of the town.[8]



According to a Human Rights Watch report, "credible and consistent" accounts from several officials who worked in Shura-e-Nazar (the informal politico-military organization headed by Rabbani's defense minister, Ahmad Shah Massoud) and the Rabbani interim government reveal that a military campaign against Hezb-i Wahdat was planned and approved by officials at the "highest levels" of the Rabbani government.[1]

According to Afghanistan Justice Project although individual commanders cannot be identified, brigade and battalion leaders can be listed. For Jamiat, these include Qasim Fahim, Anwar Dangar, Mullah Ezat, Mohammad Ishaq Pashiri, Haji Bahlol Panshiri, Baba Jalandar Panjshiri, Khanjar Akhund Panshiri, Musdoq Lalai, and Baz Mohammad Ahmadi Badakhshani. From Ittihad these included Haji Shir Alam, Amir Anwar Oryakhail, Zulmai Tufan, Dr. Abdullah, Jaglan Naeem, Mullah Taj Mohammad, Abdullah Shah, Khinjar, Abdul Manan Diwana, Amanullah Kochi, Shirin, Mushtaq Lalai, and Mullah Kachkol.

By February 1993, Massoud had conducted negotiations with dissident Wahdat commanders who signed secret protocols with Massoud in order to avoid a long fight promising to cooperate during the conflict and to capture Mazari and his cabinet.[7]

The Operation[edit]

The men of Mohammad Fahim, who was in charge of special operations, contacted a number of the Shia commanders and obtained their co-operation. This allowed the artillery to be pre-positioned in advance of the battle, with a ZU-23 gun and 30 men being positioned on Aliabad hill, with the purpose of targeting the Central Silo, Afshar, Kart-iSeh, Kart-iChar and Kart-I Sakhi. The forces allied with the government began to bomb the area around Afshar before troops began to move in around 4:00 am on February 11. Troops moved from Badambagh to the top of Radar hill, which was part of the Afshar ridge. According to Afghanistan Justice Project:

A large contingent of both Ittihad and Jamiat forces advanced towards Afshar from the west. The closest point of the front line to the main target of the operation was the Kabul Polytechnic. A Jamiat force advanced along the main Afshar Road, from Kart-iParwan and the Intercontinental Hotel, towards the Social Science Institute, entering Afshar from the east. The ISA forces did not advance along other sections of the front line marking the west Kabul enclave, although they maintained an intense bombardment and had ample forces deployed to maintain a threat of advance.

According to this, by 13:00 the main defense line of Hezb-I Wahdat had failed and the forces, including Mazari and his top commanders, began to flee on foot. By 14:00 the Social Science Institute was captured and troops were in control of Khushal Mina and Afshar.

Mazari re-established a defense line near the Central Silo and Kart-iSakhi, at the edge of Khushhal Mina, keeping control over most of West Kabul. Following this many of the residence fled to Taimani, an Ismali area of the city.

The objectives of the military operation were largely attained during the operation.[7] Wahdat's headquarters and many of their positions were captured so that they were not able to shell Kabul from those positions anymore.[7]

Crimes Against Civilians[edit]

Numerous abuses were reported and large information was collected through interviews by two separate reports – one by Afghanistan Justice Project and another by Human Rights Watch. The abuses largely took place after the military operation itself when forces started to establish posts and to search homes.[7]

Although some abuses have been attributed to Jamiat forces, the vast majority of testimony regarding the Afshar operation suggests that the abuses were largely carried out by the Ittihad forces of Abdul Rasul Sayyaf. Ittihad forces played a major role in the assault, working directly under Sayyaf and receiving pay from him. The Ittihad forces were not absorbed into the ministry of defense.[7] Sayyaf acted as the de facto general commander of Ittihad forces during the operation and was directly in touch with senior commanders by radio.[7]

According to reports, Wahdat soldiers as well as male Hazara citizens were being arrested and executed mostly by Ittihad forces. Unarmed civilians as well were being killed, with men in particular being targeted. Other men were abducted and taken to the base of Sayyaf's Ittihad in Paghman and made to dig trenches and bury the dead. Those who survived stated they saw on the bodies evidence of torture and mutilations. Furthermore, rape of women was also widely reported. Video footage of civilian victims of this tragedy are available which contains content of graphic nature such as slaughtered women and mutilated bodies of women and children. Human Rights Watch suggests that 70-80 people were killed in the streets fighting, while 700-750 people disappeared. It states that between 80-200 people were later released after ransoms were paid to Sayyaf's Ittihad commanders.


John Jennings, a journalist with the AP present in Afshar during the operation around Massoud's troops, went into considerable detail to debunk allegations of a systematic massacre of civilians.[9] Although he did leave open the possibility that some captured Wahdat fighters were summarily executed rather than being treated as POWs by troops furious at Wahdat atrocities against Kabul civilians during the preceding months. Jennings recounts entering a nearby basement where Wahdat fighters had tied up non-Hazara hostages with wire, shot them and tried to burn the bodies, before fleeing the scene ahead of Massoud's advancing troops.[9] Jennings also describes Ahmad Shah Massoud's followers rescuing a wounded Hazara civilian caught in the crossfire during the height of the battle. Despite these written reference — and although Jennings is quoted as a reliable source on other topics in the Human Rights Watch reports — any account of what he witnessed during and after the Afshar battle was left out by Human Rights Watch editors.[9]

Massoud Convenes Meeting for the Security of Civilians[edit]

Reportedly cursing Sayyaf in private for the deadly escalation of the operation, Massoud on the second day of the operation convened a meeting in the Hotel Intercontinental to discuss arrangements for security in the newly captured areas.[7] In the meeting he ordered an immediate halt to the abuse and looting. He withdrew most of the offensive troops, leaving a smaller force to garrison the new areas.[7] Massoud also trusted Shia commander Hussain Anwari to make arrangements for the safety of the largely Shia civilian population.[7]

Islamabad Accord (March 1993)[edit]

The Afshar campaign and the surrounding violence were ended by the Islamabad Accord between the Islamic State and Hekmatyar's alliance (including Hezb-i Wahdat) fashioned in late February 1993 and signed on March 7, 1993. There were a few weeks of relative calm. Hezb-i Wahdat ally Gulbuddin Hekmatyar took the long-offered position of prime minister in the Rabbani government.

The Islamabad Accord among other things stated:

Having agreed to bringing armed hostilities to an end, Recognizing the need for a broad-based Islamic Government in which all parties and groups representing all segments of Muslim Afghan society are represented so that the process of political transition can be advanced in an atmosphere of peace, harmony and stability, [...] All the parties and groups concerned have agreed as follows: To the formation of a Government for a period of 18 months in which President Burhanuddin Rabbani would remain President and Eng. Gulbedin Hikmatyar or his nominee would assume the office of Prime Minister. The powers of the President and Prime Minister and his cabinet which have been formulated through mutual consultations will form part of this Accord and is annexed; The Cabinet shall be formed by the Prime Minister in consultations with the President, and leaders of Mujahideen Parties within two weeks of the signing of this Accord; [...] A cease-fire shall come into force with immediate effect. After the formation of the Cabinet, there shall be permanent cessation of hostilities.[10]

Pulitzer Prize-winning Roy Gutman of the United States Institute of Peace wrote in How We Missed the Story: Osama bin Laden, the Taliban, and the Hijacking of Afghanistan:

Hekmatyar had become prime minister ... But after chairing one cabinet meeting, Hekmatyar never returned to the capital, fearing, perhaps, a lynching by Kabulis infuriated over his role in destroying their city. Even his close aides were embarrassed. Hekmatyar spokesman Qutbuddin Helal was still setting up shop in the prime minister's palace when the city came under Hezb[-i Islami] rocket fire late that month. "We are here in Kabul and he is rocketing us. Now we have to leave. We can't do anything," he told Massoud aides.[9]

Hekmatyar turned out afraid to enter the city (he had shelled for one year) more than once to take up his post.[9] He attended one cabinet meeting but by late March, unwilling to compromise with other cabinet members not belonging to his faction and while his aides were still in the prime minister's palace, Hekmatyar's Hezb-e Islami forces were again shelling Kabul.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "IV. Culpability". Blood-Stained Hands: Past Atrocities in Kabul and Afghanistan’s Legacy of Impunity (Report). Human Rights Watch. 2006. 
  2. ^ a b Anderson, John Lee. The Lion's Grave (November 26, 2002 ed.). Atlantic Books. p. 224. ISBN 1-84354-118-1. 
  3. ^ Rees, Phil (2 December 2001). "A personal account". BBC News. Retrieved 2008-04-21. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f "III. The Battle for Kabul: April 1992-March 1993". Blood-Stained Hands: Past Atrocities in Kabul and Afghanistan’s Legacy of Impunity (Report). Human Rights Watch. July 6, 2005. 
  5. ^ "Massoud tried to mediate between Ittihad and Wahdat". 
  6. ^ a b c Blood-Stained Hands: Past Atrocities in Kabul and Afghanistan's Legacy of Impunity (Report). Human Rights Watch. July 6, 2005. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Casting Shadows: War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity 1978-2001, Documentation and analysis of major patterns of abuse in the war in Afghanistan" (PDF). Afghanistan Justice Project. 2005. 
  8. ^ a b Grad, Marcela (2009). Massoud: An Intimate Portrait of the Legendary Afghan Leader. Webster University Press. p. 310. ISBN 978-0-9821615-0-0. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f Gutman, Roy (2008). How We Missed the Story: Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban, and the Hijacking of Afghanistan. US Institute of Peace Press. p. 304. ISBN 978-1-60127-024-5. 
  10. ^ "Afghan Peace Accord (Islamabad Accord)" (PDF). University of Ulster. 1993.