Despatch from Baghlan | International

Where Afghans fight each other

Afghan special forces arrive at the site of an attack in Pul-e-Khumri, Baghlan province, in May.

Afghan special forces arrive at the site of an attack in Pul-e-Khumri, Baghlan province, in May.   | Photo Credit: Reuters


Afghan militias’ night raids and U.S. air strikes have caused a large number of civilian deaths

“The situation here is not good. Actually, this place is never considered as safe”, said Mir Suleiman, a teacher from the northern Afghan province of Baghlan. He grew up in an area called “the factory”, which is named after an sugar plant that has been built in the 1940s near Pol-e Khomri, the provincial capital.

The area, once used to be an economic hub that attracted labourers and merchants from all around the country, is now haunted by violence. Several parts of Baghlan are controlled or contested by the Taliban. Fighting between the insurgents and security forces are taking place on a daily basis. “The other side of the [Kunduz] river belongs to the Taliban. You can see and hear their motorcycles from here,” said Farzad Sattar, a local engineer.

While some youngsters are busy fishing, Mr. Sattar describes how the the war continues to tear apart families and friends in the province. “We all know each other here. But you will find people fighting on different sides, even within families. There is one brother who joins the Taliban, and there’s another one who goes to the Afghan National Army. “Young men are often easily recruited by the Taliban and thereby leave their families. “I think it’s not just the propaganda they are trapped in. We have to consider the fact that everyone in Baghlan grew up with violence. They don’t know anything else,” said Mr. Sattar.

While the U.S. restarted peace talks with the Taliban earlier this month in Qatar, people in Baghlan do not think that even a peace deal would bring in any immediate change to their lives. The U.S.-Taliban talks are focussed on the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. It’s not about ending the war in which Afghans are fighting Afghans. Most battles are taking place between the Taliban and the Afghan security forces.

“Any peace deal would be good, but we need to stop ourselves killing each other. A deal with the Americans would not guarantee enduring peace in Baghlan and many other parts of Afghanistan,” said Mohammad Sultan, a local. He points out that government forces have become very violent too and often target civilians. “Often, they don’t care if you are an insurgent or not. They just attack you and question later.”

Civilian casualties on the rise

Recent reports underline that civilian casualties caused by pro-government forces increased in 2019. For example, a new report by the Human Rights Watch documents the violence caused by CIA-backed Afghan militias who are known for night-rime raids at homes in remote villages, forced disappearances, torture and summary executions.

“In case after case, these forces have simply shot people in their custody and consigned entire communities to the terror of abusive night raids and indiscriminate airstrikes,” said Patricia Gossman, Associate Asia Director and the report’s author, after speaking to three dozen witnesses of such operations.

In the 50-page report released last October, the New York-based rights group documents 14 cases across nine provinces over the last two years. According to HRW, the cases clearly illustrate that the Afghan forces trained and funded by the U.S. intelligence agency have shown little concern for civilian life and or accountability to international law. The militias are active all over the country, most recently in the provinces of Khost, Paktia, Paktika, Nangarhar and Wardak.

According to the UN, Afghan and international military forces have been responsible for at least 484 civilian deaths and 777 civilian injuries so far in 2009. At least 468 of those civilian deaths were attributed to foreign military forces. Most of these casualties are results of airstrikes. U.S. forces conducted at least 797 air strikes in the month of October alone, which amounts to an average of 26 strikes a day, according to the Pentagon.

“Airstrikes happen in Baghlan too, but there are much more in neighbouring Kunduz,” said Mohammad Sultan, who grew up in the region. Large parts of Kunduz province are controlled by the Taliban. In 2015, its provincial capital fell into the hands of the insurgents for a few days. The temporary fall of Kunduz was a shock for both President Ashraf Ghani and his international backers. It was the first big city that was captured by the Taliban since 2001.

The city was recaptured later. But “it’s wrong to believe that the Taliban are gone,” said another local resident. “They don’t control the city but they are everywhere else. Their fighters regularly come to Baghlan. This is happening because we have a weak and corrupt government.”

Emran Feroz is a freelance jounalist

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2020 3:22:22 PM |

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