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Civilians Claim Used As Human Shields in Taliban Attacks

Naqeebullah Saifi ruined apartment in Kandahar's Bacha Khan Colony.
Naqeebullah Saifi ruined apartment in Kandahar's Bacha Khan Colony.

Civilians are paying a high price as a consequence of the Taliban’s sophisticated attacks in several Afghan villages and cities.

Naqeebullah Saifi, a resident of the southern city of Kandahar, is a recent victim of rampant Taliban violence. His apartment was burned to ashes in an intense gun battle last month.

As Afghans headed to polling stations in Kandahar's affluent Bacha Khan Colony neighborhood on June 14, four Taliban suicide attackers fired on a police station from the rooftop of a building housing five family apartments. Saifi, 35, was in Kabul at the time of the attack, but his family was home. "Four people had entered our apartment building at 8:30 in the morning," he said. "During the attack, they were moving up and down the stairs and threatening the terrified residents and even temporarily held them at gunpoint."

Saifi said that his family and other residents of the building were lucky to escape unharmed from the building, which had three separate stairways.

The fighting in the compound lasted for nearly 24 hours until the morning of June 15. Two attackers blew themselves up by detonating their suicide vests, while the other two were shot by police. Two policemen were killed and two more were injured in the clash.

Saifi's family lost all their possessions in the attack. "When we first entered our home, nothing else could be seen other than ashes," he said. "Even the ceiling fans had melted."

His five-year-old son Imran, who escaped with his family, witnessed the attack. He remembers seeing the gunmen, whom he says were wearing Afghan clothes. "We were terrified. My bicycle and other toys were burnt," he said.

Haji Agha Lalai Dastagiri, a member of the Kandahar provincial council, said this was not the first time the Taliban used civilian homes to attack security forces, and even forced women and children to act as human shields.

He recalled an incident in 2011 when the Taliban launched an attack on a security post from Kandahar's popular Zarnigar wedding hall while a wedding party was underway.

At least 26 soldiers were killed and dozens of civilians injured as a result of the attack. "Such incidents are a signature Taliban tactic and have taken place in Jalalabad, Kandahar, Kabul, and other cities as well," Dastagiri said.

Rural Afghans have similar complaints. Sayed Khan, a resident of Achin district in the eastern Nangarhar province, said his 12-year-old child was wounded in an attack on June 14. "The Taliban have repeatedly used the area around my house to attack security forces. One of my cows and a calf died in the crossfire once. My house was hit as well."

Abbas Khan, a resident of Spinghar village in the same province, said his wife was shot in their home one month ago after the Taliban attacked a security forces patrol in front of their house.

"When the fighting started, I was working in the fields and ran towards my house," he recalled. "When I entered the room where my wife was sitting, she had been shot and severely wounded," he said.

Sadiq Sadiqui, the spokesperson for the Afghan Interior Ministry, said that the Taliban frequently use civilians as shields. "Most of the time, their target is the civilians themselves. They carry out bomb blasts in restaurants and even mosques," he said. "They use people’s properties for attacking the security forces knowing that there are civilians in such places. They use such tactics because they know that they cannot fight with the security forces in the open."

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Afghanistan reported 8,615 civilian casualties in Afghanistan last year. It said that most of the casualties were caused during crossfire between the insurgents and government forces.

In a statement earlier this year, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force held the Taliban responsible for "nearly 90 percent of all civilian casualties."

But the civilian victims of Taliban violence often get little help from their government. In Kandahar, Saifi says that the Afghan government has made no offer of assistance.

"I and those whose homes burnt down, until someone extends a helping hand, will be living with friends and relatives," he said. "Until now, nobody has come to even ask what we need. We want the government to give us a place and help us to also acquire utensils for daily use," he said.

Dawa Khan Minapal, the spokesperson for Kandahar's governor, said that a government team is assessing the damage. "I promise that nobody will be left without shelter in this intense summer heat during Ramadan. We will act urgently,” he said.

Lawmaker Dastagiri, however, said that the victims of previous attacks have received little help. "People were not compensated for all the damages they suffered. We want the government to help these people and protect them from such adversities in future," he said.