A scathing report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) has charged the Taliban with the killing or forced disappearance of about 100 ex-Afghan troops or intelligence officers. 

The summary executions of former members of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) include military personnel, police, intelligence servicemembers, and paramilitary militia, who either had surrendered to or were captured by Taliban forces during the government’s collapse or shortly afterward between August 15 and October 31, 2021. The report specifically points to incidents in Ghazni, Helmand, Kandahar, and Kunduz provinces, but there are many more cases of Taliban killings and abductions being reported in Khost, Paktiya, Paktika provinces.

HRW conducted numerous interviews and gathered crucial evidence of about 100 extrajudicial or revenge killings by Taliban troops. The killings were carried out despite assurances made by the Taliban leadership, after the group seized power in August in lightning fashion, that a general amnesty would be given to former members of the ANSF.

Afghan soldier surrendering to Taliban
Afghan soldiers surrendering to Taliban fighters during the collapse of the government. Many of those soldiers didn’t get the promised amnesty and were killed. (AP)

The report highlights that either the Taliban leadership giving their blessing to the killings while hiding behind plausible deniability or that they have little to no control over their small unit commanders and ordinary fighters. Neither is good for a government whose economy is in shambles and is looking for recognition and foreign aid. 

Human Rights Watch’s associate Asia director, Patricia Gossman said, “The Taliban leadership’s promised amnesty has not stopped local commanders from summarily executing or disappearing former Afghan security force members.”

“The burden is on the Taliban to prevent further killings, hold those responsible to account and compensate the victims’ families.”

The killings aren’t a recent phenomenon. In the 18 months before they seized power, the Taliban targeted government officials, military members, and tribal elders who had cooperated with the Americans, as well as journalists. Gossman believes that this was a way for the Taliban to crush any dissidents or anyone deemed a “threat” to their rule.

The Taliban have largely looked the other way while these killings are taking place stating that they have no knowledge of these events and that they aren’t condoned by the leadership. 


False Assurances

Inamullah Samangani, a spokesman for the Taliban spoke to the New York Times in a telephone interview saying that the Taliban were “seriously investigating” the reports of the killings and that any of their members that committed these crimes would be brought to justice. Thus far, not one member of the Taliban has been charged. 

“We are fully committed to the amnesty that we have announced,” Samangani said. “We don’t have a security system yet in place, and some people are taking advantage of this vacuum, misusing the name of Islamic Emirate and carrying out such killings.”

“Revenge killings aren’t in the interest of our government. They are harmful to Islamic Emirate’s reputation at this critical time,” he added. 

After the collapse of the government and the takeover in August, the Taliban leadership has directed members of Afghan security units and the military to register to receive a letter guaranteeing their promised amnesty. However, Taliban fighters have used these screenings to detain, beat, and then either summarily execute or forcibly disappear former members of the Afghan government shortly after they register.

Afghan commando
A former Afghan commando during an operation. The commandos were targets of the Taliban and were selected for summary execution. (DVIDS)

The Taliban have also accessed the former military and government employment records that were abandoned during the collapse. They are using them to identify people for arrest and execution.

The Taliban special forces, the so-called “red units,” have been raiding the homes of former government workers, judges, and officials under the pretext of searching for weapons. The residents of those homes soon disappear.

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Especially terrifying are the raids in Nangahar province. The Taliban are accusing many people in the province of supporting the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISIS-K), an affiliate of the Islamic State. The UN reported that the Taliban operations against ISKP “rely heavily on extra-judicial detentions and killings.” 

Gossman said Taliban assurances that the perpetrators of extra-judicial killings will be investigated and charged are nothing more than a publicity stunt. 

“The lack of accountability makes clear the need for continued UN scrutiny of Afghanistan’s human rights situation, including robust monitoring, investigations, and public reporting,” she said.