Taliban forces in Afghanistan have summarily executed or forcibly disappeared more than 100 former police and intelligence officers in just four provinces since taking over the country on August 15, despite a proclaimed amnesty, Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Tuesday.
The report documents the killing or disappearance of 47 former members of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) — military personnel, police, intelligence service members, and militia — who had surrendered to or were apprehended by Taliban forces between August 15 and October 31. Human Rights Watch gathered credible information on more than 100 killings from Ghazni, Helmand, Kandahar, and Kunduz provinces alone.
“The Taliban leadership’s promised amnesty has not stopped local commanders from summarily executing or disappearing former Afghan security force members,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The burden is on the Taliban to prevent further killings, hold those responsible to account, and compensate the victims’ families.”
Human Rights Watch interviewed 40 people in-person in the four provinces and another 27 by telephone, namely witnesses, relatives and friends of victims, former government officials, journalists, healthcare workers, and Taliban members. A Taliban commander said that those responsible for atrocities “cannot be forgiven.”
The Taliban leadership has directed members of surrendering security force units to register to receive a letter guaranteeing their safety. However, Taliban forces have used these screenings to detain and summarily execute or forcibly disappear people within days after they register, leaving their bodies for their relatives or communities to find.
The Taliban have also been able to access employment records that the former government left behind, using them to identify people for arrest and execution.
In just one example, in Kandahar city in late September, Taliban forces went to the home of Baz Muhammad, who had been employed by the National Directorate of Security (NDS), the former state intelligence agency, and arrested him. Relatives later found his body.
The Taliban have also carried out abusive search operations, including night raids, to apprehend and, at times, forcibly disappear suspected former officials.
“Taliban night raids are terrifying,” a civil society activist from Helmand province said. “They are conducted on the pretext of disarming ex-security forces who have not surrendered weapons. Those that ‘disappear’ are (victims) of night raids. The family can’t report or confirm. The families can’t even ask where (the person has been taken).”
During searches, the Taliban often threaten and abuse family members to make them reveal the whereabouts of those in hiding. Some of those eventually apprehended have been executed or taken into custody without acknowledgement that they are being held, or information about their location.
The Taliban’s intelligence department in Helmand detained Abdul Raziq, a former provincial military officer, after he had surrendered in late August. Since then, his family has been unable to find out where he is being held, or if he is still alive.
The executions and disappearances have generated fear among former government officials and others who might have believed that the Taliban takeover would bring an end to the revenge attacks that had been characteristic of Afghanistan’s long armed conflict.
Particularly in Nangarhar province, the Taliban have also targeted people they accuse of supporting the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP, an affiliate of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS). As the United Nations reported, Taliban operations against ISKP “rely heavily on extra-judicial detentions and killings.” Many of those killed have been targeted because of their Salafist views, or their particular tribal affiliations.
On September 21 the Taliban announced the establishment of a commission to investigate reports of human rights abuses, corruption, theft, and other crimes. The commission has not announced any investigations into any reported killings, although it did report on the arrest of several Taliban members for stealing, and the dismissal of others for corruption. In a November 21 response to Human Rights Watch’s findings, the Taliban said that they have dismissed those responsible for abuses but provided no information to corroborate their claim.
“The Taliban’s unsupported claims that they will act to prevent abuses and hold abusers to account appears, so far, to be nothing more than a public relations stunt,” Gossman said. “The lack of accountability makes clear the need for continued UN scrutiny of Afghanistan’s human rights situation, including robust monitoring, investigations, and public reporting.”
(Sanjeev Sharma can be reached at Sanjeev.firstname.lastname@example.org)