International Criminal Court drops probe into U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan

International Criminal Court. Editorial credit: Friemann /

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has said it will not investigate alleged U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan, but will pursue alleged crimes committed by other actors in the recent conflict. 

The ICC and its newly appointed Chief Prosecutor, the Briton Karim Khan, have been under immense pressure from the United States to drop investigations into offences allegedly committed by U.S. troops and spy agencies.

In a statement, Khan said: “Recent developments in Afghanistan and the change in the national authorities represent a significant change of circumstances. I have therefore decided to focus my office’s investigations in Afghanistan on crimes allegedly committed by the Taliban and the ISIS and to deprioritise other aspects of this investigation.”

Khan added: “After reviewing matters carefully, I have reached the conclusion that, at this time, there is no longer the prospect of genuine and effective domestic investigations.”

Karim Khan. Pic: ICC

The initial investigation was opened in 2020 by Khan’s predecessor, Fatou Bensouda. This elicited a furious response form the U.S. which sanctioned ICC officials for opening the investigation and revoked visas of the judges involved in the probe.

Highlighting the recent ISIS-K attack on Kabul airport and linking it with the probe, Khan said: “In making the determination to prioritise crimes by IS-K, as well as the Taliban, I recall the United Nations Security Council’s recent condemnation of ‘the deplorable attacks of August 26, 2021, near Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, which were claimed by the Islamic State in Khorasan Province,’ and further note that the Council has, in multiple resolutions, deemed that the terrorist activities of the Islamic State constitute a global threat to international peace and security.”

The probe, according to Khan, will look into “alleged crimes by the Taliban and the Islamic State, which include allegations of indiscriminate attacks on civilians, targeted extrajudicial executions, persecution of women and girls, crimes against children and other crimes affecting the civilian population at large.”

Khan, however, failed to mention the drone strike that followed the Kabul Airport attack. The strike was ordered by the U.S. president in which the family of an Afghan aid worker along with six children were killed.

The Hague-based ICC was set up in 2002 as an independent court to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the world’s worst crimes. However, it has since been criticised by many for focussing on prosecuting leaders from developing nations rather than western leaders.

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