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'They Call Us Infidels': Former Afghan Soldiers Still Live In Hiding To Avoid Taliban Retribution


The families of thousands of Afghans affiliated with the toppled internationally backed government in Kabul and former security forces live in constant fear.

Suleiman and his family have been living in hiding for months, constantly moving from place to place for fear of Taliban retribution.

His family has been on the run since his elder brother, a former member of Afghanistan's intelligence agency, was killed soon after the Taliban toppled the Western-backed Afghan government and seized power in August 2021.

Human rights groups have accused the Taliban of carrying out widespread revenge killings, enforced disappearances, and torture of former Afghan officials, security officers, and individuals who cooperated with the departed U.S.-led military presence in Afghanistan. That is despite the Taliban announcing a blanket amnesty when it took Kabul on August 15.

"We are still facing many threats," Suleiman, who did not reveal his real name for security reasons, told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi.

"People [in the Taliban-led government] describe officials and soldiers of the former Afghan government as supporters of a corrupt system," he added. "Sometimes, they call us infidels."

The Taliban has denied killing Suleiman's 35-year-old brother, who was slain in eastern Afghanistan in October. The militant group told Suleiman that "unknown persons" had killed his sibling and "that they cannot do anything about it."

'Threatening Calls'

Suleiman's family is not alone. The families of thousands of Afghans affiliated with the toppled internationally backed government in Kabul and former security forces live in constant fear.

Tens of thousands of at-risk Afghans were evacuated during the chaotic U.S.-led evacuation in August. But thousands of others, including former members of the security forces, civil servants, and those who assisted the U.S.-led war, remain stranded.

"I'm facing constant security threats that force me to constantly change my residence," a former senior Interior Ministry official told Radio Azadi.

The Western-trained former official, who requested that his name be withheld to protect his identity, said he initially offered his services to the new Taliban authorities. "But I was told that there is no place for me in the new government," he said. Since then, he has taken shelter in a remote district to avoid being identified.

International rights groups say the Taliban has carried out scores of revenge killings since seizing power.
International rights groups say the Taliban has carried out scores of revenge killings since seizing power.

Hamid, who served as an officer in the Afghan National Army for around 15 years, changes his location every month. "I received numerous threatening calls," Hamid, who did not want to use his real name for safety reasons, told Radio Azadi. "They had accessed the databases of various government departments and found my personal information."

Hamid said the callers knew where he lived and where his children went to school.

Promise Of 'Amnesty'

The Taliban has repeatedly said that it is committed to the general amnesty it announced. "They can live freely in their homes and travel around the country," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Radio Azadi. "No one is allowed to threaten anyone."

But international rights groups say the Taliban has carried out scores of revenge killings since seizing power.

Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch, says her organization has independently documented and confirmed more than 100 cases of killings, enforced disappearances, harassment, and beatings of former security officers.

"Incidents have continued throughout the country despite denials from the central authorities and their promise of 'amnesty,'" she told RFE/RL.

Gossman said those "especially" targeted by the Taliban were former members of the National Directorate of Security, the main intelligence agency, the Afghan Local Police , a U.S.-trained and -armed force of pro-government village militias, and the Afghan National Police.

A seven-month investigation by The New York Times found that nearly 500 former government workers and members of the security forces were killed or forcibly disappeared during the Taliban's first six months in power.

Gossman says the Taliban has issued blanket denials without carrying out credible investigations. She says many of the revenge killings have been carried out with the knowledge or tacit approval of senior Taliban commanders.

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    RFE/RL's Radio Azadi

    RFE/RL's Radio Azadi is one of the most popular and trusted media outlets in Afghanistan. Nearly half of the country's adult audience accesses Azadi's reporting on a weekly basis.

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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, specializes in the coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan.

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