KABUL: Taliban forces on the offensive across northern Afghanistan have forcibly displaced residents and burned homes as apparent retaliation for cooperating with the Afghan government, Human Rights Watch said.
In a statement, the influential organization said since May 2021, the Taliban have captured scores of district centers throughout the country, including an estimated 150 districts in Kunduz and other northern provinces. Residents of Bagh-e Sherkat in Kunduz province said that from June 21 to June 25, Taliban forces ordered residents to evacuate and threatened those they said had provided past support to the Afghan government.
The statement said Taliban fighters looted and burned down homes. The rebels claimed that they had ordered people to leave “for their own safety,” and denied responsibility for looting or burning houses, but they have frequently committed abuses against civilians for allegedly assisting the government.
“The Taliban’s retaliatory attacks against civilians deemed to have supported the government are an ominous warning about the risk of future atrocities,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Taliban leadership has the power to stop these abuses by their forces but haven’t shown that they are willing to do so.”
The Human Rights Watch interviewed former residents of Bagh-e Sherkat by phone in early July. Taliban forces entered Bagh-e Sherkat and, with loudspeakers, ordered residents to vacate their homes in two hours. About 400 families fled the town, some going to Taloqan, 70 kilometers east, and about 200 fled to Faizabad, Badakhshan province, 230 kilometers east. Sirajuddin, a 43-year-old elder, told Human Rights Watch that when he heard the Taliban announcement he hid because he knew they would be looking for him.
In 2015, when the Taliban took control of Kunduz city for about two weeks, an Afghan National Army (ANA) commander had ordered him to organize food for soldiers fighting the Taliban. “The commander said, ‘You have to help us – tell the villagers to bring food,’” he said. “So, we collected food and money for the soldiers. Now the Taliban say I have to leave because I helped the ANA.”
Sirajuddin said that shortly after the Taliban announced the deadline for residents to leave, some fighters began searching homes and looting property. “My family left our house and then they burned it with everything in it,” he said. Other villagers said that the Taliban shot and killed two civilians, Abdul Salam, a shopkeeper, and Habibullah, a former member of a local militia force, apparently because of their association with the government.