Groups ask U.S., NATO to help secure Afghanistan gravesite

WASHINGTON — A human rights group Monday called on the commander of U.S. and NATO-led troops in Afghanistan to assist the United Nations in securing a mass gravesite from which the remains of as many as 2,000 suspected Taliban and al Qaida fighters appear to have been removed.

McClatchy reported last week that men allegedly loyal to Afghan warlord and U.S. ally Abdul Rashid Dostum reportedly used backhoes and bulldozers to dig up the remains in recent months, leaving empty holes in the Dasht-e-Leili desert in northern Afghanistan.

Physicians for Human Rights, whose investigators discovered the site in 2002, urged U.S. Army Gen. David McKiernan, the commander of U.S. and NATO-led forces in Afghanistan, to provide the troops and logistical support required by the U.N. to secure the area against further disruption.

"Full protection of the grave will be dependent upon NATO forces being given the mandate to preserve any remaining evidence and safeguard any surviving witnesses," Frank Donaghue, the chief executive of the Cambridge, Mass., organization, said in a statement.

Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek who played a central role in helping the U.S. overthrow the Taliban in 2001, is suspected of having the remains of Taliban prisoners who died in his men's custody buried at the site.

PHR said a full-scale forensic investigation of the gravesite could only be conducted if a "full security cordon . . . with around-the-clock guards" is established.

The government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, backed by the U.N. and the international community, must also conduct an investigation into the deaths of the men who were buried at the site and the destruction of possible evidence of war crimes, PHR said.

"The Bush administration needs to answer questions of who knew what and when, and provide information of what they did or failed to do to secure the site" and to declassify any satellite images of the location from November 2001 to the present, PHR said.


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