Provided with phone credit and sewing and embroidery supplies, the women believed that they were being helped to start a small business. But their contact point, a female doctor, had been recruited by coalition forces to provide intelligence on the Taliban.
A human rights researcher said the implications of such a project were “deeply disturbing”.
The doctor, Hila Achekzai, giving rare detail of how NATO allies use their network of spies in Afghanistan, described how she fed information from 20 women to coalition forces in the southern province of Oruzgan for more than two years until 2010.
Dr Achekzai, now a senator in Oruzgan, said that she dealt with Australian and US military officials, who warned her of the sensitivities involved with covert intelligence-gathering. “They said it was very secret and not to tell anyone otherwise I could be killed by the Taliban,” she said.
She was often asked to use the women to pinpoint the location of suspected insurgents’ houses and in some cases she was asked to activate a GPS tracking device when she was in the presence of insurgents. “The reports we were giving showed exactly which houses the Taliban were in,” she said.
“But the ladies had no idea what they were doing. They were just going and sitting with the other ladies and listening to them. If they did know they wouldn’t have worked for me.”
The use of fake aid programs came into focus after the raid on Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound when it was revealed that the CIA arranged for a hepatitis vaccination drive in its quest to find out whether he was living there. The doctor involved was jailed and several polio immunisation workers have been killed amid distrust about aid workers.
The Taliban have frequently killed suspected spies in Afghanistan, which would be a risk to the women involved in the embroidery project, according to Heather Barr, a Human Rights Watch Afghanistan researcher.
“The idea of building relationships with women – poor women who presumably joined the project because they were desperately trying to find ways to help feed their families – through a supposed aid project in order to gather intelligence on insurgents is deeply disturbing,” she said.
While not commenting on the program directly, Oxfam Afghanistan said that aid should always be delivered on the basis of need and not for military purposes. “The military do not have the relevant experience to know how to deliver development projects in such a complex and volatile context,” said Louise Hancock, head of policy and advocacy.
NATO officials in Kabul declined to comment. Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade refused a request to interview the Australian Ambassador at the time, with whom Dr Achekzai said she had discussed the programme.Source: The Australian – Women tricked into spying on Taliban for US, Australian forces
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