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Taliban Takes Revenge On Former Afghan Security Forces

Victorious Taliban fighters drive an Afghan National Army vehicle through the streets of Laghman Province.
Victorious Taliban fighters drive an Afghan National Army vehicle through the streets of Laghman Province.

Traces of bullets and Negar's blood are still visible on the walls and doors of her family home, a daily reminder of the night gunmen came for the expecting mother, wife -- and former Afghan policewoman.

"The room was completely covered in blood," one of Negar's daughters told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi about her mother's early-September assassination in the central province of Ghor. "When they fired, the windows were blown open, and the smell of gunfire and blood was strong. The house was very dark. We could not see anyone."

While the Taliban said it was investigating the attack, promising to catch the perpetrators, her family -- whose names are being withheld for their safety -- had its suspicions the moment the gunmen stormed in.

"Three people came in. They aimed a gun at me," said one of her sons, who said he asked who they were. Their response, he said, was that they were from the "mujahedin of the Islamic Emirate," the official name of the Taliban regime.

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The loss of the child his pregnant mother was carrying makes her assassination a double murder, said the son, one of Negar's 10 surviving children along with her husband.

Considering her previous service with the police in Ghor Province, Negar's death has added to heightened fears that the Taliban is targeting members of the toppled government's Afghan National Defense Security Forces (ANDSF), which includes the military and police.

The Taliban, which overran Ghor Province on August 13 as U.S.-led forces prepared to withdraw from the country after nearly 20 years of war, has pledged a general amnesty to all.

After a rapid offensive returned it to power in Kabul on August 15, Taliban officials promptly claimed the group had changed since its infamously brutal rule from 1996 to 2001, vowing that Afghans -- even soldiers and police -- could "restart your daily routines with full confidence."

An ANA graduation ceremony in Khost Province in March 2021.
An ANA graduation ceremony in Khost Province in March 2021.

Those vows have been taken with a huge grain of salt by the international community following the Taliban's subsequent acknowledgement that it would bring back infamous punishments such as amputations and executions, and mounting evidence that revenge attacks are being carried out against minorities as well as Afghans with ties to the former government.

Former members of the ANDSF -- which included the 195,000-strong Afghan National Army (ANA), Afghan National Police, and Air Force, among others -- are being singled out for particularly harsh treatment, rights activists and victims’ families say.

In June, more than two months before the last foreign troops left the country, 22 unarmed Afghan commandos were executed as they tried to surrender in the northern Faryab Province. While the massacre at an outdoor market was captured on several videos and multiple eyewitnesses said the Taliban carried out the killing, the extremist group told CNN that the videos were "fake" and denied executing the Afghan troops.

As the Taliban advanced on provincial capitals on its way to taking Kabul, the U.S. Embassy said on August 12 that it was "hearing additional reports of Taliban executions of surrendering Afghan troops" that "could constitute war crimes."

The killings continued after the Taliban seized most of Afghanistan.

On August 30, Taliban forces killed 13 ethnic Hazaras -- one a 17-year-old girl and 11 of them former members of the ANDSF -- in the central Daikundi Province, according to an investigation by Amnesty International.

The killings came after nine of the ANDSF members had surrendered to the Taliban, and the nine were all killed extrajudicially in what appear to be war crimes, according to the international rights watchdog.

“These cold-blooded executions are further proof that the Taliban are committing the same horrific abuses they were notorious for during their previous rule of Afghanistan,” Amnesty International Secretary-General Agnes Callamard said at the time.

The Taliban patrolling the streets of Kabul in October.
The Taliban patrolling the streets of Kabul in October.

In mid-September, the Taliban confirmed that five former Afghan police officers had been evicted from their homes and killed in separate incidents in the southern city of Kandahar.

As with other killings, including the policewoman Negar's, the Taliban has denied involvement as it continues its PR campaign to present itself in a more moderate light. But allegations of the extremist group's role in the killings, torture, and kidnapping of former members of the security forces have not stopped.

As the Taliban marched on Kabul, many defeated military and police officers took steps to secure their survival.

Some fled to neighboring countries, such as a group of Air Force pilots who flew 17 military aircraft to neighboring Tajikistan within hours of Kabul's fall. Others made it to Iran or Pakistan or were evacuated by foreign forces.

Still others went into hiding, some kept up the fight, and some took the Taliban up on its offer of amnesty and handed over their weapons.

Patricia Gossman, associate director for Human Rights Watch's Asia Division, told RFE/RL that "there are growing concerns about disappearances.”

"We are hearing many reports of people being arrested purely for having any association with the former security forces and family members being interrogated or beaten by Taliban looking for former officials," Gossman said in written comments on October 12. "The Taliban forces carrying out these abuses appear to have been given a free hand while officials at the top deny it is happening."

The Taliban's acting Defense Minister, Mullah Mohammad Yaqub, apparently admitted in a September 23 audio statement that the militants had committed revenge killings since seizing power.

"Recently, some people have been killed deliberately [by our fighters] in some parts of the country," a voice purported to be Yaqub's can be heard in the recording that is apparently addressing Taliban cadets and commanders.

Taliban fighters working as police at a checkpoint in Kabul in October.
Taliban fighters working as police at a checkpoint in Kabul in October.

The voice, which admitted that such incidents have happened because of personal enmities and desire for revenge, then recommends restraint and advises against Taliban fighters taking justice into their own hands.

RFE/RL's Radio Azadi has reported numerous accounts of alleged execution, torture, and kidnapping of former members of the ANDSF, and many families have expressed concerns about loved ones who were associated with the Afghan security forces.

RFE/RL is identifying them by their first names only to protect them against possible repercussions.

Najiba said her brother, a security officer in southeastern Ghazni Province, surrendered his arms and ammunition to the Taliban, and was taken to prison.

"We do not know his fate and are worried," she said. "No one is telling us about his situation."

Taliban fighters and locals sit on an Afghan National Army vehicle on a street in Jalalabad Province on August 15..
Taliban fighters and locals sit on an Afghan National Army vehicle on a street in Jalalabad Province on August 15..

Gula Jan, a resident of the southern Helmand Province, has similar concerns.

He is seeking information about his nephew, a former soldier with the ANA.

"He surrendered to the Taliban, but his fate is still unknown," Jan said. "We are asking the Taliban to release him if he is alive."

Women who fought with the ANA say they are at serious risk, as are members of their families.

"Women who were members of the army are being threatened by the Taliban," said Zahra, who once won awards for her military prowess. Now she is afraid for herself and her family.

"I was threatened by the Taliban," she said, adding that the Taliban came for her father with pictures of her in hand. "They showed them to my father and told him that it was a shame for him to have let his daughter serve in the army."

Written by RFE/RL correspondent Michael Scollon in Prague with additional reporting and translation by RFE/RL Radio Azadi correspondents Mustafa Sarwar and Ajmal Aand. Based on reporting by RFE/RL Radio Azadi correspondents in Afghanistan whose names are being withheld for their safety.

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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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    Michael Scollon

    Michael Scollon is a senior correspondent in RFE/RL's Central Newsroom in Prague.