How the U.S. Backed Kidnapping, Torture and Murder in Afghanistan

The reporters spent more than a year, including months in former battlefields in Afghanistan, investigating abuses by American-backed forces.

The convoy rumbled into the Taliban heartland, a white desert littered with stones. Over the loudspeakers at the local mosque, the Afghan police officers ordered everyone to gather: The commander was here.

Dozens assembled in the mud square to listen as Abdul Raziq, one of America’s most important partners in the war against the Taliban, stood before the crowd, gesturing at two prisoners he had brought along to make his point.

The prisoners knelt with their hands bound as Raziq spoke to his men. A pair of his officers raised their rifles and opened fire, sending the prisoners into spasms on the reddening earth. In the silence that followed, Raziq addressed the crowd, three witnesses said.

“You will learn to respect me and reject the Taliban,” Raziq said after the killings, which took place in the winter of 2010, according to the witnesses and relatives of both men. “Because I will come back and do this again and again, and no one is going to stop me.”

For years, American military leaders lionized Raziq as a model partner in Afghanistan, their “if only” ally in the battle against the Taliban: If only everyone fought like Raziq, we might actually win this war, American commanders often said.

He ruled over the crucial battleground of Kandahar during a period when the United States had more troops on the ground than in any other chapter of the war, ultimately rising to lieutenant general thanks to the backing of the United States. American generals cycling through Afghanistan made regular pilgrimages to visit him, praising his courage, his ferocious war fighting and the loyalty he commanded from his men, who were trained, armed and paid by the United States and its allies.

The Americans were by his side until the very end. When he was gunned down by an undercover Taliban assassin in 2018, he was walking next to the top American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Austin S. Miller, who celebrated him as a “great friend” and “patriot.”

But to countless Afghan civilians under his reign, Raziq was something else entirely: America’s monster.

His battlefield prowess was built on years of torture, extrajudicial killings and the largest-known campaign of forced disappearances during America’s 20-year war in Afghanistan, a New York Times investigation into thousands of cases during his rule found.

The Times obtained hundreds of pages of documents written by the former American-backed government, more than a decade’s worth of hidden ledgers bearing clues to his campaign of abuse. He transformed the police into a fearsome combat force without constraints, and his officers abducted hundreds, if not thousands, of people to be killed or tortured in secret jails, The Times found. Most were never seen again.

The culture of lawlessness and impunity he created flew in the face of endless promises by American presidents, generals and ambassadors to uphold human rights and build a better Afghanistan.

And it helps explain why the United States lost the war.

For nearly two decades, the American public saw only part of the war in Afghanistan. Large parts of the country and its people were off limits to outsiders, impossible to chronicle fully during the fighting. Now that it’s over, the Taliban are no longer planting roadside bombs, and many have swapped their AK-47s for three-ring binders and a stifling bureaucracy.

The Times spent more than a year visiting parts of Afghanistan that were once active battlefields, trying to figure out what really happened during America’s longest war.

We interviewed many hundreds of people who said their fathers, husbands, sons and brothers had disappeared under Raziq, the police chief responsible for security across Kandahar Province, the birthplace of the Taliban. They saw his rule as little more than a brutal campaign against civilians, underwritten by the United States.

His acts not only discredited the American war effort — breeding profound resentment that pushed people to support the Taliban — but embodied it in many ways as well. Across Afghanistan, the United States elevated and empowered warlords, corrupt politicians and outright criminals to prosecute a war of military expediency in which the ends often justified the means.

The Taliban committed countless atrocities of their own against civilians, including suicide attacks, assassinations and kidnappings for ransom.

But it was a mistake to “keep a really bad criminal because he was helpful in fighting worse criminals,” said Gen. John R. Allen, who said he tried to limit cooperation with Raziq when he was overseeing coalition forces in the Afghan war from 2011 to 2013.

While Raziq’s tactics worked in some respects, beating back the Taliban in Kandahar and earning him the admiration of many who opposed them, the strategy came at a clear cost. It stirred such enmity in parts of the population that the Taliban turned his cruelty into a recruiting tool, broadcasting it to attract new fighters. Many Afghans came to revile the American-backed government and everything it represented.

“None of us supported the Taliban, at least not at first,” said Fazul Rahman, whose brother was abducted in front of witnesses during Raziq’s reign. “But when the government collapsed, I ran through the streets, rejoicing.”

Even some who cheered the ruthlessness Raziq wielded against his enemies lamented the broader corruption and criminality he helped enshrine, a key part of why the Afghan government collapsed in 2021. After his death, his commanders expanded their predation further, extorting ordinary people and stealing from their own men’s wages and supplies.

“What they brought under the name of democracy was a system in the hands of a few mafia groups,” said Qari Mohammad Mubarak, who ran a girls’ school in Kandahar and initially supported the government. “The people came to hate democracy.”

Many American commanders, diplomats and their allies in Afghanistan knew at the time they were bankrolling a war that strayed far outside international law.

“Sometimes we asked Raziq about incidents of alleged human rights abuses, and when we got answers we would be like, ‘Whoa, I hope we didn’t implicate ourselves in a war crime just by hearing about it,’” said Henry Ensher, a State Department official who held multiple posts on Afghanistan, including as the top civilian representative in Kandahar in 2010 and 2011, when he worked with Raziq.

“We knew what we were doing, but we didn’t think we had a choice,” Ensher said.

Most American leaders — including more than a dozen interviewed by The Times — said that Raziq had been seen as the only partner capable of beating back the Taliban in the heartland of the insurgency, where a pitched battle for dominance was underway.

“In the moment, we might have succeeded, but so what?” Ensher said. “The entire enterprise was flawed.”

Many Afghans say Raziq used the Americans and their military might to pursue a personal vendetta, taking vengeance against the rivals his tribe had been fighting for decades.

In interviews, many former senior American officials acknowledged that they never grasped that dynamic. It was a defining characteristic over a generation of combat — how little the United States understood about the war it was waging.

The United Nations, human rights groups and news outlets raised serious concerns about Raziq and his forces, but independent investigations were limited, especially with the region so impenetrable during the war.

To determine the extent of the abuses, The Times combed through more than 50,000 handwritten complaints that had been scrawled into the Kandahar governor’s ledgers from 2011 through the end of the war in 2021. In them, we found the rudimentary details of almost 2,200 cases of suspected disappearances.

From there, we went to hundreds of homes across Kandahar and tracked down nearly 1,000 people who said their loved ones had disappeared, been killed or been taken by government security forces.

All together, The Times collected detailed evidence of 368 cases of forced disappearances and dozens of extrajudicial killings attributed to American-backed forces in Kandahar. We counted only cases that were corroborated by at least two people, many of them eyewitnesses to the abductions, and they were often documented with police reports, affidavits and other government records as well.

In all of the cases of forced disappearances, the person is still missing.

These figures are almost certainly a gross undercount of the atrocities during Raziq’s reign. We could not canvas all of Kandahar, home to more than a million people. And the more than 2,000 suspected cases we found in the government’s ledgers were most likely just an inkling of what really happened. Most of the families we interviewed had never formally reported their loved ones missing, out of fear of retribution or the danger of traveling during the war.

Beyond that, the police destroyed many of their records as the Taliban reached the outskirts of Kandahar City in 2021, former senior officials said. The exact number who were abducted and never seen again may be impossible to know.

What is clear, however, is who was responsible: Only the American-backed government consistently engaged in forced disappearances in Kandahar, former officials, combatants and families of the victims said.

“The Taliban didn’t need to disappear people — they just killed them where they found them,” said Hasti Mohammad, a former government official in charge of the Panjwai district in Kandahar. “The government disappeared people because what they were doing was illegal. They were hiding from the law.”

The cases confirmed by The Times amount to the largest campaign of forced disappearances in Afghanistan since tens of thousands went missing after the Soviet-backed communist coup in 1978, an assessment of previous atrocities shows.

As the victims mourned their loved ones, they confronted their own powerlessness. Raziq was untouchable, thanks to the ironclad support of the United States and its NATO allies.

“We would ask ourselves: ‘Are we creating something here that we may regret later?’” said Col. Robert Waltemeyer, a former Special Forces officer who worked with Raziq.

But there was no one better at fighting the Taliban, he said, adding that he never witnessed Raziq do anything illegal. When the United States sent tens of thousands of American soldiers to Afghanistan during the so-called surge announced in 2009, hoping to wrest control of the south, Raziq was central to the effort.

“He was probably the most important person in the entire surge,” Waltemeyer said.

The United States pushed for Raziq to lead the police forces who fought alongside American troops, he said, because “he showed up, and his troops showed up, to fight, not just to watch the Americans fight.”

In effect, Waltemeyer said, “We created Raziq.”

“You look at every U.S. war and it’s the same,” he said. “We create regrets.”

Fazul Rahman raced to the grease-stained motorcycle shop the moment he got the call: His brother, a mechanic, had just been kidnapped.

In a panic, the shop workers told him that three men in civilian clothes had pulled up in an unmarked Toyota Corolla on the morning of Sept. 3, 2016, asking his brother to take a look at a generator in the trunk.

Then, in full view of a crowd of onlookers, they said, the men wrestled Fazul’s brother, Ahmad, 28, into the car and sped away.

To Fazul and everyone else present, the culprits were obvious: the police. Under Raziq, Kandahar’s security forces had become notorious for snatching anyone they suspected of working with Taliban insurgents. Many simply disappeared. Others turned up as mutilated corpses, discarded in the streets. A lucky few were released alive, bearing wounds and accounts of torture.

Some of the missing were, in fact, Taliban, their families said. Others, their relatives insisted, were not. Many were simply part of the working class: mechanics, tailors and taxi drivers who had nothing to do with the war, their families said.

Desperate to find his brother, Fazul gathered elders and hurried to the local police station. The officers denied arresting his brother, so he headed to the palace of the American-backed governor, joining the line to submit complaints.

The handwritten government ledgers reviewed by The Times show his plea: Volume 4 from 2016, Entry No. 591 — Ahmad, son of Abdur Rahman.

There were thousands of families just like his, all with the same burning question. What had the government done with their loved ones?

After filing his complaint, Fazul worried. What would happen if he pushed too hard? The police were abducting and disappearing people on mere suspicions, never mind someone openly accusing them of kidnapping.

“The police were getting angry,” he said. “They’d beat us and say, ‘Why do you keep coming?’”

Still, another force, more potent than fear, was driving him: his mother, Malika.

Women were rarely seen or heard making public demands in conservative Afghanistan, especially in the south. But Fazul and Ahmad were all their mother had; their father had died of cancer more than 20 years earlier, leaving her to raise them on her own.

“For months, from morning to night, I went from the police to the governor’s offices and waited for someone to see me,” she said.

Outside the offices, scribes charged a small fee to write out complaints for people who, like Fazul and his mother, were illiterate. Many of the petitions were in Malika’s name, and the family provided copies of them to The Times.

“Please help find and release my innocent son,” one said. It carried the signatures of 11 local elders, all attesting that her son was not in the Taliban.

Soon, Fazul and his mother got to know other families searching for missing people. Having a relative arrested on suspicion of being an insurgent tarred them with the same brush. But the presence of women gave them some license to make demands.

Aliyah’s son, Salahuddin, a rickshaw driver, had been snatched from outside his home as he walked to the mosque.

“There was nowhere that I wouldn’t go to find my son,” Aliyah said. “But we had no idea whether he was dead or alive.”

A third man, Daud, had been taken in 2015. With no immediate family to look for him, a neighbor, Seema, became his advocate.

Frustrated by how often the families returned, an employee at the governor’s palace told Fazul to put together a list of the missing. A scribe helped Fazul take down the names in his impromptu group: 17 families, at first.

The list, scribbled on a sheet of plain white paper, was soon expanded, passed around, photocopied and texted.

Like Ahmad, many of the victims had been grabbed off the streets or from workplaces by armed men in plainclothes in front of witnesses. Some had simply vanished, like Abdul Wahid, whose brother, a butcher, last saw him when he sent him home with some meat for dinner. Others, like Habib Rahman, had been arrested by uniformed officers while out with friends.

Their relatives clung to the hope that they might still be alive in one of the many unofficial detention sites, often called “private prisons,” maintained by Raziq’s forces.

The families went to the Red Cross to study photos of unidentified bodies that had been collected and buried, and then to the morgue to see the newly discovered corpses. Some had been suffocated, shot in the head or dumped with their hands still tied.

The group paid bribes to find answers. Most had already shelled out money to unscrupulous police officers, to no avail. Then, in late 2016, a break: One of their missing was returned, finally offering a clear account of what was happening to their loved ones.

Nisar Ahmad, 23, had been abducted a month earlier, not long after a bomb attack targeting one of Raziq’s commanders left the area on edge. Two men in plainclothes took him at gunpoint.

Inside a shipping container, a group of men, some in police uniform, took turns beating him, he said. They stuffed a plastic bag into his mouth and poured water over his face, nearly suffocating him. Most shamefully, he said, they twisted his genitals, permanently damaging them.

The police told him to make a confession, and recorded it, he said: “After I confessed, they didn’t torture me anymore.”

That night, he was blindfolded and driven to another location. Through a barred window, he saw a spindly mountaintop and the green, red and black flag of Afghanistan, he said. (A former police detective said the site appeared to be the District 9 station in Kandahar City.)

Eventually, Nisar’s father, Mohammad Fazluddin, received a phone call from a police officer, he said, demanding the equivalent of $900 — a staggering amount — to release his son. Mohammad agreed, dropping off the money at an auto repair shop as instructed, and his son was let go, he said.

“It’s a miracle,” he said, taking the release as a sign that the police knew his son was innocent.

In private, the families said, some of the police acknowledged they had taken their loved ones. So, Fazul and the others buttonholed every official possible.

They insisted there was nothing they could do, he said.

“They all knew exactly what was happening,” Fazul said. “They said: ‘We have nothing to do with this. This is Abdul Raziq’s work.’”

Finally, Fazul got a meeting with the governor of Kandahar. The mothers joined more than a dozen men to plead and scold for the missing on their list.

Malika, Fazul’s mother, was furious, accusing the officials of corruption and cowardice, of robbing her of the most precious thing in life. At one point, they recalled, the governor’s guards warned her not to speak so bluntly.

“You people have taken my son,” she responded, looking at the governor, people in the room recalled. “If you want to kill me, then kill me, but I won’t hold my tongue.”

The hectoring paid off. Their list landed on the desk of Raziq himself.

He summoned them for a meeting.

Disappearances were hardly new in Kandahar, a place ravaged by more than four decades of war. Even Raziq had lost someone.

His father had been a driver, often going to the border with Pakistan. One day, while Raziq was still a boy, his father disappeared on a routine trip, vanishing in the vast desert.

His family, members of the Achakzai tribe, blamed their longtime rivals: the Noorzai. The two tribes had been locked in a deadly feud that stretched back decades, long before the Taliban came to power.

“He was killed because he was Achakzai,” Tadin Khan, Raziq’s younger brother, told The Times. “His body disappeared.”

Raziq went on to author the most brutal campaign of enforced disappearances in his country in decades. And it often targeted this rival tribe, the Noorzai, many of whom supported the Taliban.

That is something the Americans generally failed to understand: A tribal and family dynamic, not just a hatred of the Taliban, animated Raziq’s war. In fact, the cluster of villages where Raziq summoned the crowd, killed the two prisoners and then threatened the onlookers was mostly made up of Noorzai.

“He killed them like dogs,” said Haji Dilbar, a villager who described being in the crowd that Raziq had assembled to witness the killings.

As his friends tell it, Raziq first picked up a gun as a teenager, fighting under his uncle during the civil war that came after the collapse of the Soviet-backed government. In 1994, his uncle was killed by the Taliban, who hanged his body from the barrel of a tank.

When the U.S. invasion began in 2001, Raziq started fighting on the American side, joining a militia to clear the Taliban out of Kandahar. Later, those same forces became the border police and served under Raziq, still in his 20s at the time.

Largely illiterate, he compensated with his intelligence and charisma, distinguishing himself as a fearless fighter who knew the deserts straddling the border, as his father did.

By 2010, as the Taliban gained ground across the south, Raziq had held back the insurgents in the areas around his home district, called Spin Boldak. American commanders knew he was corrupt, running a mafia-style racket on trade across the border. He was suspected of being involved in the poppy trade.

Allegations of extrajudicial killings also dogged Raziq for years, dating back to the early days of the American-backed government. Noorzai elders said they had complained of murders to American military officials, but were ignored.

Lt. Col. Andrew Green, who worked closely with Raziq in 2010 and 2011, said that confirming the allegations had been impossible because the events happened deep in Taliban territory.

Moreover, he said, law enforcement in Afghanistan was barely functional. The courts were corrupt, and most people could pay their way out of jail, leaving the police with few options.

“In Afghanistan, the police shoot people,” he said. “While you can’t say it’s a good thing, it’s sort of what is done.”

The worries about Raziq spread. A State Department report documented a 2006 episode in which he executed 16 men he accused of being Taliban. In 2009, he was accused of torture and keeping private prisons by the Afghan human rights commission.

The so-called surge became a major turning point for him. In 2009, hoping to beat back a resurgent Taliban, President Barack Obama announced that he would send thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan, focusing on Kandahar and Helmand Provinces, two Taliban strongholds.

The Americans wanted a partner who was unafraid to confront the Taliban head-on, like Raziq. Yet they were also debating what to do about “bad actors” who undermined the legitimacy of the Afghan government, also like Raziq.

“There were lots of conversations about whether we should mentor Raziq or imprison him,” recalled Green, the American officer, who had investigated him for other issues, including graft.

The Americans chose the former. They needed him.

After the police chief of Kandahar was assassinated in 2011, Raziq was given the job. He became a general and appointed commanders from his Achakzai tribe to key positions in Kandahar.

United Nations investigators called four of them — three of whom were his relatives — the “four horsemen” for the many allegations of torture and extrajudicial killings against them. One of them, a Raziq family member, was responsible for organizing death squads, according to police officers who worked with him. His men roved the city in unmarked cars, wearing plainclothes.

Deeming the court system corrupt, Raziq ordered his commanders to kill suspected Taliban, former officers and officials said. Those who refused to kill captives were dismissed.

“He told me: ‘Why are you bringing these Taliban to the station? Why aren’t you killing them? What are you afraid of?’” said one former city district chief who, like some others, spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution.

The victims were taken for a “sand picnic” and dumped in remote areas, down wells or where the shifting desert sands would cover them, according to former police officers and internal United Nations reports.

One senior police officer said he had complained to Raziq about finding bodies dumped in his district.

“I told him, ‘They’re in my area; it’s going to be blamed on me,’” the officer said. He recalled Raziq laughing before agreeing to tell his men to be more careful.

A 2013 United Nations report noted a surge in unidentified bodies, some still handcuffed, dumped in Kandahar City and dozens of reported disappearances, citing the “increased level of brutality” and torture under Raziq.

Within two months of his appointment as police chief, the Americans stopped transferring detainees to Afghan security forces in Kandahar because of reports of abuses and executions.

“I pulled the intel on the guy and it was pretty horrific,” Allen, the American general, said.

Still, American support continued to flow to Raziq, who was popular with U.S. officers and considered vital to winning the war.

While Col. Bill Carty, the head of U.S. Special Forces in Kandahar, was visiting Raziq in 2012, a suicide bomber struck. Carty threw himself on top of Raziq to shield him, and then gave the general his own body armor to wear, according to an account Carty gave in the book, “One Hundred Victories,” and confirmed to The Times.

“Why did you give me your vest?” Raziq asked.

“There are thousands of me,” Carty recalled replying, emphasizing the importance of Raziq’s role as police chief. “But there is only one of you.”

At his headquarters, Raziq greeted Fazul and the other family members in his white civilian robes. Because he couldn’t read, his secretary said aloud the names on the list Fazul had provided for him.

Getting the meeting was no easy feat. By then, the Taliban had made so many attempts on the general’s life that he joked to friends that he had lost count.

But in person, Raziq was polite, several of the attendees recalled, and allowed each of them to speak their minds. When everyone finished, the general spoke.

He did not trust the courts, the families recounted him saying. The judges let criminals go free, the prosecutors were ineffective, and justice could always be bought for a price. He preferred to administer his own justice.

He spoke to a few family members directly, including Shah Mohammad, whose brother, Neda, was on Fazul’s list. The general told him that Neda had been involved in the murder of police officers, an accusation he struggled to believe; Neda sold vegetables from a pushcart in the market.

Before the meeting ended, the general turned to Seema, whose adoptive son Daud had disappeared months earlier. He would be returned, the general said without explanation.

Not long after, Daud was set free.

After getting out, Daud told the families how he had been kept in a dark cell for months at an unofficial detention site. He was beaten and abused regularly, until, after the general’s intervention, he was transferred to a formal prison before being let go. He told the others that he had not seen any of their loved ones.

Still, a painful wave of hope washed over the families. They began to dream that, perhaps, their children might still be alive. But that is the problem with hope, and not knowing: Without the closure of death, they could never properly grieve.

For the perpetrators, disappearances carry a cruel logic. Though they can be crimes against humanity, there is little evidence without a body, especially when someone is snatched without witnesses or by officers in civilian clothes and cars.

Yet the disappearances inflicted unique wounds for many Afghans. Often, wives were told they could not remarry until their husbands were proved dead. Some with young children were left unable to support themselves.

“What General Raziq did in terms of killing and disappearing was worse than everything else that happened in the rest of Afghanistan,” said Sayed Abdul Karim, the father of one of the young men on Fazul’s list. “I wish that we could bury his bones somewhere. If we had a grave, we could go there and pray.”

The cruelty bred other cruelties, like the cottage industry of hustlers that emerged to take advantage of parents’ desperation. Fazul and his mother fell victim to a scam, traveling to Kabul to pay an intelligence official several thousand dollars for Ahmad’s return, a trip that nearly ended with Fazul himself getting kidnapped. Others paid more.

Some decided their families should be joined by more than tragedy alone. Fazul’s cousin married the son of the missing rickshaw driver, Salahuddin.

He had been gone so long that, by then, his son was of marrying age.

The shock came on Oct. 18, 2018: Raziq was gunned down by a Taliban assassin who had infiltrated the governor’s guards.

The Taliban crowed.

They had long used Raziq’s brutality to recruit fighters and whip up anger in videos and pamphlets that showcased his abuses.

But his death allowed the insurgents to broadcast their ability to kill even the most protected commanders — one who was walking just paces away from Miller, the top American commander in Afghanistan, at the time of his death.

The Taliban said they had chosen to target Raziq over anyone else at the meeting, including the American four-star general, who escaped injury.

“He was more important to us than Scott Miller,” said Maulavi Ebrar Ahmad Habib, a Taliban commander who oversaw assassinations in Kandahar during those years.

Fazul and the others hoped things would change with Raziq’s death. For the most part, nothing did.

Raziq’s brother, Tadin, took over as police chief of Kandahar. He told The Times that neither he nor his brother had waged campaigns of forced disappearances. Officials said he simply continued the system his brother had built.

When the war began, Fazul and the others imagined the Americans would bring investment and opportunity. They envisioned good jobs, better homes, prosperity. But their good will evaporated quickly as their loved ones disappeared.

It was not that everyone embraced the Taliban, residents said; they just came to detest the Afghan government and the Americans who propped it up.

That erosion of support — not just among the families of the missing, but also among many Afghans disenchanted by the broader corruption and unchecked abuses of the Americans and their Afghan partners — was part of the collapse of Kandahar, as it was elsewhere in the country.

The impunity and criminality that Raziq fostered metastasized after his death, eating away at Kandahar from within. As the Taliban grew stronger, wage and supply theft within government forces devastated morale, as did infighting among his commanders, paralyzing their ability to fight.

Fazul’s group prayed for an insurgent victory, clinging to the hope that once the government was toppled, they might discover what had become of their relatives.

And once the United States withdrew from Afghanistan, leading to the collapse of the Afghan government in 2021, the Taliban went from prison to prison, emptying cells.

Thousands of people from across the province flooded into Kandahar City. Fazul heard that hundreds of prisoners had been extracted from the basement of the police headquarters. Huge crowds gathered outside of the governor’s compound, jostling for a look at those who exited.

Fazul joined them, racing downtown to scour public facilities. Having no luck in Kandahar City, he and others descended on Spin Boldak, where Raziq got his start. Hundreds waited there, too, scanning the crowds for their missing loved ones. Fazul counted the people freed from unofficial detention sites. His brother wasn’t one of them.

Rohullah Akhunzada, who was part of Fazul’s group, looked for his own brother in a basement prison, its dank, low ceilings a harrowing indication of what so many Afghans had been forced to endure. He found no sign of him.

“We still don’t know,” he said.

Having looked everywhere, another of Fazul’s compatriots, Fazl Raheem, approached the Taliban to ask for news of his brother.

The Taliban told him that all of the prisons had been emptied. Everyone still alive is already with their families, he recalled them saying.

The crowds drifted, hoping for one more place their loved ones could materialize. Many went to the crowded bus station in Kandahar City to scan the prisoners returning from Bagram Air Base, where the Americans, and later the Afghans, had kept thousands of detainees.

The urgency and desperation rose like a fever. So, too, did the familiar despondence when Fazul’s brother was nowhere to be found.

Since the collapse, mass graves have turned up in Kandahar, prompting renewed searches from relatives who show up at desert sites and hospital morgues, or share photographs of skeletal remains. But there is no organized search for the missing in Kandahar.

After years of pressure from the United States, prosecutors at the International Criminal Court have said they are de-prioritizing investigations into abuses committed by American-backed forces. The United Nations has focused on abuses carried out by the new Taliban government, accusing it of its own campaign of extrajudicial killings and torture.

The Times sued the American government for its files on Raziq. Nearly a year later, the military and the State Department have turned over only a handful of documents. Few military leaders from that era had any interest in revisiting his legacy, and what it reveals about the American war effort.

“The reason you have insurgencies is because of injustice, and Raziq represented the very worst,” said Allen, the American general. He added: “Raziq created the very injustice that gave the Taliban its edge on us.”

To commemorate Raziq, the former Afghan government had begun erecting a mausoleum for him, a giant, mosque-like structure beside the governor’s palace, a memorial fit for a national hero. Many see him that way, as a champion of those who oppose the Taliban.

Rather than destroy it, the Taliban have surrounded the edifice with concrete blast walls, careful not to antagonize the large swathe of the population that still reveres the general. It is blocked but visible, its dome and minarets peeking over the barrier.

There are no monuments to the missing. Of the 17 people on his original list, Fazul knows of only three who came home alive.

“I still have hope that he will return, even though I know he is probably dead,” said Malika, Fazul and Ahmad’s mother. “My tears have not dried since he disappeared.”

How the U.S. Backed Kidnapping, Torture and Murder in Afghanistan