Taliban Killings Skyrocket in Forgotten Afghanistan

A new report exposes the regime’s shocking brutality.

By , a Pentagon and national security reporter at Foreign Policy.
A Taliban fighter aims his rifle.
A Taliban fighter aims his rifle.
A Taliban fighter aims his rifle as he poses for a photograph while visiting an amusement park on the outskirts of Kabul on Nov. 19, 2021. Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images

The Taliban’s killings of former members of the Afghan military and rights groups have spiked in recent months, according to a recent report compiled by Afghan diplomats and civil service staff. The militant group is seeking to crack down on perceived regime opponents while also clashing with resistance groups. 

During bouts of fighting with the so-called National Resistance Front across three Afghan provinces in May as well as after armed uprisings in some of Afghanistan’s eastern and southern provinces, the report concludes the Taliban arbitrarily detained, tortured, and killed dozens of civilians they accused of being linked with the deaths of their fighters. 

“Shoot them in the head: male or female, anyone who opposes the Taliban and Islamic Emirate. They are brainwashed by Americans, and the only solution is to shoot them in the head,” Mullah Babak, a known Taliban official from Wardak province, said in a video shared on social media at the time. “I am ready to come and shoot those captured by Taliban by my own gun, right in their head, and kill them like dogs and donkeys.”

The Taliban’s killings of former members of the Afghan military and rights groups have spiked in recent months, according to a recent report compiled by Afghan diplomats and civil service staff. The militant group is seeking to crack down on perceived regime opponents while also clashing with resistance groups. 

During bouts of fighting with the so-called National Resistance Front across three Afghan provinces in May as well as after armed uprisings in some of Afghanistan’s eastern and southern provinces, the report concludes the Taliban arbitrarily detained, tortured, and killed dozens of civilians they accused of being linked with the deaths of their fighters. 

“Shoot them in the head: male or female, anyone who opposes the Taliban and Islamic Emirate. They are brainwashed by Americans, and the only solution is to shoot them in the head,” Mullah Babak, a known Taliban official from Wardak province, said in a video shared on social media at the time. “I am ready to come and shoot those captured by Taliban by my own gun, right in their head, and kill them like dogs and donkeys.”

In one instance documented in the report, a son of a former Afghan intelligence official was tortured to death inside the Taliban’s district police center in Badakhshan; other former Afghan National Army officers have been forcibly disappeared without a trace. In another case, Taliban military arrested a former army officer outside of his home and shot him to death while his family pleaded to spare his life. The Taliban even began shooting at the crowd during a funeral service for an Afghan police officer, forcing the family to bury the man in private. 

The uptick in killings comes as former Afghan officials have accused the Taliban of gross mismanagement of public funds. According to the former Afghan officials and diplomats who compiled the report, the Taliban have not paid the salaries of civil service employees in months. Instead, the group has shared money allocated for salaries among regime loyalists, and an unprecedented number of beggars have flooded the streets of the capital.

This is not the first warning that Taliban killings are on the rise. In January, the United Nations reported that more than 100 former Afghan officials had likely been killed since the Taliban seized Kabul in August 2021, most of those killings conducted by the militant group. But former Afghan officials believe that the numbers are continuing to rise as Afghanistan has receded from the spotlight with Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and few consequences from U.S. officials. 

“The extrajudicial killings going after former military and other perceived people of threat have been going on from the very beginning,” said Aref Dostyar, Afghanistan’s former consul general in Los Angeles until earlier this year and now a senior advisor on Afghanistan at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame. “But then, a spike started really right around the time when Ukraine happened because both the world and the media got distracted from Afghanistan, and the Taliban wanted to use that opportunity. So they went after people more than before.” 

With no boots on the ground, the United States and countries from the now-dissolved NATO coalition that fought in Afghanistan have had trouble verifying just how significant the spike has been. But Ali Nazary, the foreign relations chief of Afghanistan’s National Resistance Front, told Foreign Policy in a text message that hundreds of people had disappeared from areas where the Taliban had faced the most significant resistance to their rule, such as the Panjshir Valley, Andarab, Takhar, and Khost. 

“Every time they are defeated in battle they increase their atrocities on civilians, especially those related to the fighters,” Nazary wrote. “It has in reality strengthened the resistance. Attacking civilians in Afghanistan doesn’t demoralize them, but provokes them to join us.” 

Although the Taliban have been chided by the Biden administration for curbing women’s access to education and harboring al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul—who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Afghanistan’s capital over the weekend—the United States has repeatedly allowed travel waivers for the militant group’s leadership to travel abroad for diplomatic salvos despite a long-standing United Nations travel ban. The Taliban have also tried to negotiate to get ahold of Afghanistan’s frozen currency reserves, which are held by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. (U.S. officials have looked to designate a third-party trust fund to provide that money directly to the Afghan people, going around the militant group.) 

To centralize cash flows in the Taliban’s hands and meet economic shortfalls after international donor group and U.S. aid dollars have been cut, the regime has also banned the cultivation of poppy and opium, Afghanistan’s two major illicit cash crops. Other vestiges of Taliban rule have reemerged since the militant group took power, with Taliban supreme leader and chief Haibatullah Akhundzada ordering women to wear burqas that cover their entire bodies in public. 

With Afghanistan’s economic climate getting worse and killings on the rise, former Afghan officials worry about a return to the Taliban’s last era of rule, when executions in soccer stadiums were the norm. 

“I think we should be concerned that we may be going toward the 1990s,” said Dostyar, the former Afghan diplomat.

Jack Detsch is a Pentagon and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @JackDetsch

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