Taliban killing spree pursues soldiers and civilians in captured areas

While the number of executions could be in the thousands, one grieving father asks: 'What made them kill my sons?'

Taliban patrol in a Humvee that was seized from Afghan security forces after storming the Afghan side of the border with Pakistan at Spin Boldak. EPA
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On the eve of Eid Al Adha, as Afghanistan was preparing to celebrate the feast of sacrifice, Fida Mohammad's Afghan's life was instead turned upside down and struck by tragedy.

His sons, Sher Mohammad, 34, and Mahmoud Khan, 37, were dragged out of their home in Spin Boldak district of Kandahar province, and killed by the Taliban.

“We never got any threats. Our house was surrounded by the Taliban around midnight before Eid and they entered and took my sons. I don’t know why they took them,” said Mr Afghan, 57, a member of Kandahar provincial council.

Neither of his sons were likely targets for the militants, he told The National. “Sher Mohammad was a businessman and Mahmoud Khan was head of the [provincial] Olympic committee.”

Mr Afghan was in Kandahar city, unable to return to Spin Boldak after the Taliban seized the district.

“I got a call around 8am from locals and they told me that my sons were killed,” he said.

“I wasn’t even able to attend the funeral of my sons.”

Mr Afghan is not alone in grieving for loved ones killed by the Taliban during their rapid sweep across the country since May. The insurgents have conducted hundreds, possibly thousands of murders in districts they have captured.

The brutality that occurred in Spin Boldak is unforgivable
Tadin Khan, former police chief of Kandahar

Tadin Khan, former police chief of Kandahar, said the Taliban are believed to have killed hundreds of people in Spin Boldak alone.

“They possibly martyred 800 to 900 people in the past month and a half,” he told local media. “The brutality that occurred in Spin Boldak is unforgivable.”

National and international human rights bodies have been able to confirm only a fraction of suspected cases.

Investigations by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission confirmed 40 executions by the Taliban in Kandahar and 37 in Ghazni province.

Human Rights Watch said it could confirm at least 44 summary executions of “soldiers, police and civilians with alleged ties to the Afghan government”.

"First of all, 44 is just the number we were able to confirm for now. I can’t say how many in total,” Patricia Gossman, HRW’s associate Asia director, told The National.

In many cases, the victims had responded to a Taliban call to “register” with them to ensure their safety.

“It was significant to me was that all of these were men who had gone to ‘register’, supposedly to get a letter guaranteeing their safety, and that turns out to be meaningless in these cases – worse than meaningless, in that it was more like drawing a target on their backs,” Ms Gossman said.

While many of the killings might appear to be retribution for the victim's anti-Taliban stance or support for the government, it is unclear how the Taliban are picking their targets.

“I don’t know why these men in particular – from what we have seen the Taliban are targeting ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces]. These seem to be retaliations but we don’t know enough about who these 44 were to say,” Ms Gossman said.

Similar killings were also witnessed in Nimruz on Friday, when the Taliban seized control of the province’s capital.

Videos and photos shared with The National by local journalists showed rows of Afghan soldiers who had reportedly surrendered to the Taliban, with their hands tied behind them, being tortured and then executed.

“All these summary executions – anyone in custody, whether ANSF or civilians – are war crimes,” Ms Gossman said.

The families of security forces and officials have also been pursued. “Obviously, all this is also meant to terrorise all ANSF and their families and further demoralise ANSF and government employees,” Ms Grossman said.

Since the Taliban took control of our district, they have taken many residents who were working for government and security forces, and publicly executed them
Zahra, soldier's wife

Zahra, 35, who asked that her real name be withheld, was forced to flee her home in Balkh province because her husband is a soldier in the Afghan Army.

“Since the Taliban took control of our district, they have taken many residents who were working for government and security forces, and publicly executed them. We have seen them being killed,” she said.

"We were told 'if we catch your husband, we will kill him and the family',” she told The National at a camp for displaced people in Mazar-i-Sharif, the provincial capital. Other residents said similar killings by the Taliban were taking place in their villages.

The Afghan government, the rights commission and a number of UN special rapporteurs have called for a UN-mandated, fact-finding mission to investigate the killings.

“There definitely needs to be more pressure – very much so on Doha leaders as well,” Ms Gossman said, referring to the Taliban’s political office in Qatar.

Mr Afghan is still seeking answers.

“I still don’t know why they killed my sons,” he said. “If my sons or I had committed any crimes, they should’ve told us. The Taliban should’ve had their own investigation and held a court.”

The grieving father repeated the question over and over: “What made them kill my sons?”

Updated: August 09, 2021, 3:22 PM