Fifteen Taliban members thought to be responsible for a spate of assassinations in Kabul and beyond were captured on Tuesday, Afghanistan’s primary intelligence organisation announced.
The National Directorate of Security (NDS) said the men were tasked with carrying out assassinations of security and defence forces as well as prominent political figures in Afghanistan.
“Members of this group would operate in teams of four and five, and track movements of targets who are prominent and political figures in Afghanistan before carrying out their attacks,” a spokesperson for the NDS shared.
The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) said 533 civilians have been killed and 412 others wounded in targeted attacks in the last six months. Among these were two of AIHRC’s own employees, 24-year-old Fatima Khalil and driver Ahmad Jawid Folad, who were killed in an explosion targeting their vehicle on June 26.
The Afghan Ministry of Interior (MOI) provided equally grim figures, stating that at least 70 civilians were killed and more than 140 injured in the last two weeks of September.
"Although they haven't claimed it, the Taliban are killing civilians, including children and women every day, in planned attacks targeted towards government employees," Tariq Arian, spokesperson to the MOI told The National, adding that it is likely the spike in assassinations were Taliban's attempt to pressure the government in the ongoing peace talks in Qatar.
A delegation from the Afghan government is currently in meetings with Taliban members in Doha in an effort to reconcile two decades of conflict between the parties. Earlier this year, the Taliban also penned a deal with the US administration that will facilitate the exit of foreign forces from Afghanistan.
Among many high-profile assassinations include an attack on Afghan politician Fauzia Koofi, who is among the only four women participating in the negotiations with the Taliban. While Ms Koofi survived the attempt, she was severely injured and attended the peace talks while wearing a cast.
Despite assurances in the deal with the US, the Taliban has not reduced violence in the country, and continues to target civilians, particularly those voices that have been critical of the group.
The latest among these is 28-year-old Zarifa Ghafari, the youngest mayor of an Afghan city of Maidan Shar in Maidan Wardak province.
Ms Ghafari survived an attack by armed gunmen on her vehicle on Sunday while travelling between the Afghan capital and Maidan Wardak province. IT was the second attempt made on her life in six months.
"I believe they target me for many reasons, but mostly because I am a woman who broke their [patriarchal] steel wall to become an empowered woman leader," she told The National.
“They also want to show that the Afghan government is weak and if they can kill a government official like a mayor, then they can show themselves as stronger party and use it to leverage the talks,” she added.
While the recent bust of the Taliban gang is expected to reduce the violence to some extent, MOI officials shared that there may be as many as 100 Taliban assassins targeting those likely to present opposition to the insurgent group during the negotiations.
Ms Ghafari, too, has been very critical of the Taliban, often speaking at international forums, and seeking international support to protect the rights of the Afghan women in the talks with the insurgent group.
“It is nothing but an attempt to silence democracy and dismiss the voices of people,” Ms Ghafari said of the recent spike in the assassinations in the country.