London – In a public event on Saturday 20th November, CAGE marked the 20th anniversary of the twin massacres of Qala-i-Jangi and Dasht-i-Leili massacres of up to 5000 prisoners which took place in Afghanistan by US forces, their allied Northern Alliance Forces of General Abdul Rashid Dostum, and with alleged involvement of British forces.

This commemoration will be the first of an annual remembrance with the primary purposes of keeping this massacre in our collective memory and seeking accountability for the survivors and victims of it.

Taking place over a period of 10 days from November 20th 2001, Qala-i-Jangi and Dasht-i-Leili in northern Afghanistan witnessed what has been termed by survivors as the largest mass killing of prisoners in US history.

As the Taliban government fell under incessant US bombardment in 2001, a division of nearly 8000 Taliban soldiers in Kunduz surrendered after being promised safe passage to Herat via Mazar-e-Sharif.

They were betrayed with around 400 men transported to Qala-i-Jangi and the rest marched into containers where the majority died of asphyxiation or were shot dead in the containers as they screamed and gasped for air. It is reported that up 25 containers were filled, each carrying a maximum load of 250 prisoners.

Those who did not die of these conditions were shot and buried in mass graves in the nearby Dasht-i-Leili desert. Only 3000 men at most reached eventually to the destination of Sheberghan prison, a place that witnessed gruesome human rights abuses under the watchful eye and command of US forces.

The unarmed Taliban soldiers who reached Qala-i-Jangi were systematically murdered following their attempts to resist. This included the use of heavy artillery, automatic weapons, gasoline and water to drown and electrocute prisoners who barricaded themselves in the Qala basement. Only 86 of nearly 400 prisoners survived, and they were unceremoniously paraded before the press as they were dragged out of the Qala.

There has been no accountability for these twin massacres despite two aborted investigations taking place, one during President Bush’s administration and the other during President Obama’s. Despite Obama committing to a fresh investigation in 2009 and admitting in a TV interview that the massacres “had not been properly investigated”, his White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden announced in 2013 that there was “no plan to release anything”.

The Twin massacres of Qala-i-Jangi and Dasht-i-Leili represent one of the most gruesome chapters of the invasion of Afghanistan. Evidence strongly suggests that they are the largest prisoner massacres in US history. The US forces and their allies must answer for their crimes.


On the 20th Anniversary of these massacres, CAGE calls for:

  • The reopening and release of documentation of the official investigations which were covered up by two successive US administrations.
  • Civil Society organisations to ramp up efforts to investigate and document these crimes.
  • An annual commemoration of the twin massacres in November of each year to ensure this painful chapter is not forgotten and that there is accountability for it.




Media reporting:


Artwork by Sabri Mohammad Ibrahim Al Qurashi

(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)