Video has emerged that purports to show the moment 22 Afghan commandos were massacred by the Taliban moments after they surrendered.
The footage appears to have been taken in Dawlat Abad, in northern Faryab province, on June 16 following a major battle between the Taliban and Afghan forces.
The government had sent an elite team of US-trained commandos – including the son of a retired general – into the town to recapture it, but they quickly became surrounded with air support and reinforcements failing to materialise.
Militants say the commandos were captured after running out of ammunition, but witness accounts from the time and the new footage suggests they were actually gunned down in cold blood.
It comes amid a major offensive by the Taliban across Afghanistan as US forces withdraw, which has seen the Islamists trying to persuade government troops to abandon their posts on the promise of safe passage back to their homes.
In the video, which was first shared with veterans network Funker530 last week, men holding weapons can be seen ushering a group of soldiers into a public square.
The soldiers are unarmed and many of them have their arms raised, as their captors yell at them and a couple are forced to kneel on the ground.
‘Don’t shoot them, don’t shoot them, I beg you don’t shoot them,’ someone says in the local Pashto language, according to translation by CNN.
Moments later, to shouts of ‘Allahu Akbar’, the captors open fire – unleashing a volley of bullets that starts with two gunshots and ends in dozens of rounds being fired.
A second piece of footage then shows bodies strewn across the ground, as men holding rifles strip them of their equipment.
CNN claimed to have spoken to witnesses who said the commandos arrived in the town in armoured vehicles, sparking a two-hour firefight with the Taliban than ended only when they had run out of ammunition.
They received no air support and no reinforcements despite calling repeatedly for them, because supporting forces were afraid that details of their mission had been leaked to the Islamists and they would also be killed.
‘The other forces betrayed the commandos,’ an anonymous official told Stars and Stripes magazine at the time.
Sohrab Azimi, a well-known and respected government commando who was recently killed in fierce fighting in Afghanistan’s north after he was sent into a hotly-contested area without backup
That account was backed up by a witness who spoke to CNN and said: ‘The commandos were surrounded by the Taliban.
‘Then they brought them into the middle of the street and shot them all.’
The Red Cross has confirmed that the bodies of 22 commandos were recovered after the fighting.
Among them was Sohrab Azimi, the son of retired Afghan army general Hazir Azimi – a prominent and well-respected Afghan fighter whose death was widely mourned.
However, the Taliban claim that 24 commandos were actually taken prisoner and are still being held by the group, though refused to provide CNN with any evidence.
The Taliban is attempting to portray itself as both a changed organisation and a responsible government-in-waiting in Afghanistan, as it fights to retake the country.
The group hopes to build diplomatic bridges with regional neighbours and avoid provoking a military response from the West which saw it toppled from power following the September 11 attacks.
It is also hoping to persuade Afghan government troops to surrender the posts left to them by retreating NATO and US forces rather than stand and fight.
The anonymous source which handed the video to Funker530 said they hoped the footage would persuade army units that surrender is not necessarily the ‘safe’ option.
The Taliban now claims to be in control of some 80 per cent of Afghanistan after retaking many rural areas from government forces.
However, observers say the extremist group is only in control of 30 per cent of the population because government forces have largely abandoned the countryside and concentrated their forces in urban centers.
An offensive to try and capture those towns and cities is expected later this year, with the result of those battles determining the future power balance of the country.
If government forces and the militias they have hired to boost their ranks prevail, then it is likely to bring the Taliban back to the negotiating table for currently-stalled peace talks aimed at hashing out a power-sharing deal.
If the government capitulates and the Taliban seize control of major power centres, then it could return the country to their control for the first time since the Nineties and undo two decades of western intervention.
In perhaps the bleakest scenario, neither side is able to land a decisive blow and the country descends into a civil war which potentially drags in its regional neighbours – as happened in Afghanistan in the 1990s and more-recently in Syria.
As the violence grows, the UN warned on Tuesday that any major escalation will create a fresh refugee crisis as civilians flee their homes – either directly due to fighting or out of fear of what life will become if the Taliban retake control.
Already, there are reports of women trying to flee the country because they do not want to be subject to the Taliban’s strict interpretation of Sharia.
Those living in areas which have fallen to the group say women have been banned from attending school or leaving their homes without their husband’s permission.
A western coalition of troops, led by the US, invaded Afghanistan in late 2001 following September 11 with the aim of toppling the Taliban which had provided safe haven for Osama bin Laden – al-Qaeda leader and mastermind of the attacks.
The Taliban were quickly ousted, but the mission soon expanded and morphed into a nation-building exercise aimed at establishing democracy in the Middle East.
Now, after two decades and trillons of dollars spent, western forces have all-but departed Afghanistan after President Biden made good on a pledge by President Trump to withdraw.
They have handed control to the Afghan army, which is struggling to maintain control in the face of a lighting-fast Taliban offensive.
The U.S. general leading the war in Afghanistan, Austin Miller, relinquished command at a ceremony in the capital, Kabul, on Monday and quietly left the country, a symbolic end to America’s longest conflict.
U.S. President Joe Biden has acknowledged that Afghanistan’s future was far from certain but said the Afghan people must decide their own fate.