Taliban forces are being accused of rape, murder, and other atrocities during their three-day reign over Afghanistan’s strategic city of Kunduz and its 300,000 residents.
Amnesty International, the Afghan government, and witnesses in the city say Taliban fighters resorted to extra-judicial killing, torture, and harassment of civilians.
In a statement citing testimony by witnesses and activists in the city, Amnesty International described a “reign of terror” during the Taliban’s “brutal” capture of Kunduz in a pre-dawn attack on September 28.
The rights group says Taliban members raped female relatives and killed family members -- including children -- of police commanders and soldiers, especially those working for local Afghan police.
The Taliban militants reportedly also had a hit list of journalists, activists, and civil servants they wanted to target in the city.
Hassina Sarwari, the head of a shelter for abused women who managed to flee Kunduz, says the group, which banned women from public life during its rule in Afghanistan in the 1990s, was deliberately targeting women’s rights activists in the city.
She says she received a call from a man who introduced himself as the Taliban’s minister for the propagation of virtue and the suppression of vice in Kunduz and asked her for the whereabouts of women who resided in the shelter.
“He kept asking: ‘Where are the women?’” she said.
“When I told him that they had been evacuated to Kabul, he said with a sarcastic tone: ‘Good for you that you left Kunduz,’” Sarwari told RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan.
She added that the militants targeted the family of one of her colleagues.
“The husband of one of our employees, Najiba Nazari, who's in charge of children in our shelter, was murdered in front of her eyes. They took away their 20-year-old son, and his whereabouts are still unknown,” Sarwari said.
She said the Taliban fighters looted and burned both the offices of her shelter and her home.
“There’s nothing left of my life,” she said in a telephone interview.
“There are thousands of women like me. Any woman who was working for women’s rights in Kunduz, any woman who advocated for women’s rights, was targeted first,” she said.
Sarwari says the Taliban insurgents committed rights violations in Kunduz “that cannot be ignored.”
“They went to people’s homes, beat up women, they killed children in front of their mothers, they raped girls in front of their parents,” she said.
“They even went to a hospital and raped the nurses working there,” she added.
The Afghan government said “the Taliban violated people’s dignity and honor, resorted to rape, and set free the prisoners, most of whom had been convicted of murder or violation of people’s dignity and property.”
During their control of Kunduz, the militant group also looted government property, setting several government buildings on fire, including radio, television, and higher education facilities, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s office said in an October 2 statement.
The statement added that the Afghan government is committed to prosecuting the perpetrators of the crimes and establishing a civilian commission to assess the losses sustained as a result of the Taliban’s seizure of the city.
Afghan forces said they recaptured much of Kunduz from Taliban insurgents on October 1.
Local residents said on October 2 that some Taliban fighters remained holed up in civilian homes in Kunduz and were fighting Afghan forces.
Horia Mosadiq, an Afghanistan researcher at Amnesty International, said “multiple credible reports of killings, rapes, and other horrors meted out against the city’s residents must prompt the Afghan authorities to do more now to protect civilians, in particular in areas where more fighting appears imminent.”
The city's capture was an embarrassment for the Afghan government and a blow to the narrative that the NATO-trained Afghan police and army were steadily improving and able to prevent the Taliban from taking over and holding significant territory.