Rising Concerns Over Civilian Casualties and Atrocity Crimes Committed by Taliban Forces in Balkhab

The Taliban has recently launched a mass killing of civilians and prisoners and a forced displacement in Balkhab district, Sar-e-Pul province, his time under the pretext of attacking one of its affiliated commanders who had defected from the Taliban, according to reports. Sources in the area confirm that the group’s fighters have killed at least 15 civilians in the past few days. As the residents of Balkhab are Hazara community, the Taliban’s attack on the district has caused a widespread outcry in national and international arenas.

In recent days, large numbers of families have reportedly taken refuge in neighboring provinces such as Bamiyan, Samangan and Balkh, as well as in the remote mountains and valleys of Balkhab, to escape tortures and murder possibilities by Taliban forces. Taliban fighters are said to have cut off transportation and telecommunications routes, leaving a number of families without food and water supplies. The Taliban’s move has provoked reactions worldwide. Human rights groups in the country say the Taliban have launched an operation similar to Panjshir to massacre people in Balkhab. They call this action against the national interests and the unity of the people. International agencies have also expressed concerns over the reports of civilian casualties during the past five-day of battle Balkhab and have called on the Taliban to abide by the laws of war. However, the Taliban deny the killings, saying that they do not want to harm civilians. Meanwhile, the group’s fighters have so far killed dozens of people in Panjshir and Andarab so brutally and have imprisoned hundreds of residents of Panjshir and Andarab in Kabul and other provinces.

After days of army marching around the Balkhab district, the Taliban attacked on the district last Thursday with thousands of fighters, including suicide bombers, hundreds of US-made military vehicles and the use of air force. The operation was launched to arrest or assassinate Mawlawi Mehdi, a Taliban commander of Hazara ethnic who had been previously expelled from his Now, It has been for about six days that Taliban are attacking villages and valleys in Balkhab district, showing no mercy to innocent residents, including, women, children and elders., The Taliban have not yet succeeded. The group is currently engaged in several fronts against the local forces led by Mehdi Mujahid. According to local sources, the Taliban have forced hundreds of families living in the district to flee their homes during the operation. According to the source, these people  to leave their houses and take refuge in the mountains due to fear of being tortured and killed. The displaced residents in the mountains and neighboring provinces are living in very dire situation with lack of food and supplies.

Locals say that the Taliban have been targeting civilians while trying to arrest or kill Mehdi Mujahid. A local resident said in an audiotape that Taliban fighters had attacked Balkhab district from four directions and have been committing massacres of innocent residents who have no connection with Mehdi and any other resistance forces. He added that the Taliban have banned all media from entering the area. He has called on civil rights groups to focus a on the situation in Balkhab and save the people.. According to him, the Taliban have killed dozens of people in the district so far and have thrown the bodies in the wells.

In another case, an Afghan citizen says the Taliban are killing women and children by marching on Balkhab, and that families who have taken refuge in the mountains do not have access to food and water supplies. According to him, the Taliban have a problem with Mehdi Mujahid, but instead, they have massacred women and children. He called on rights groups to send a delegation to Sar-e-Pul province to investigate the situation. This person, who is apparently a well-known Hazara man, states that the Taliban cut off telecommunication networks soon after they started their attacks on Balkhab.

Concerns over the Taliban’s treatment of civilians in Balkhab have provoked national and international outcries. According to some sources, more than 15 civilians have been killed in the Balkhab clashes. Joint Afghan Civil Society Organizations on Monday, June 27, 2022 issued a statement warning of widespread human rights abuses, grave breaches of Geneva Convention and mass killing of civilians in Balkhab. According to these institutions, the Taliban have done so in the absence of media coverage and the silence of international institutions. These institutions have stated that the recent killings by the Taliban in Balkhab are the same as the group’s human rights violation and abuse record in Panjshir, Baghlan and Ghor. These institutions have called on the international community to presurize the group’s senior leader in order to stop the human catastrophe in Balkhab and any other battle ground.

The Afghan Peace Committee also issued a statement calling the Taliban attack on Balkhab “unnecessary”, which resulted in casualties and forced displacement. According to the organization, as Afghanistan grapples with the wrath of nature and poverty, such action by the Taliban in Sar-e-Pul and Panjshir will prolong the 40-year war in the country and make it more difficult for the people to return to lasting peace. The organization called for an end to the Taliban attacks, calling them against the national interest and the unity of the people.

The Taliban invasion of Balkhab and the publication of reports of civilian casualties have also provoked international reactions. Amnesty International has said it is concerned about the execution of civilians in the district and that the world should not ignore the escalation of human rights abuses in Afghanistan. The group tweeted on Monday that it is concerned about what it called field executions in Balkhab district. According to the organization, the Taliban must avoid blocking communications and preventing essential supplies from reaching war zones. Amnesty International has stated that the free flow of information in the war zone must not be prohibited and that the groups involved in the conflict have a duty to abide by the rules of war in all hostilities.

Richard Bennett, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation in Afghanistan, has also expressed concern on  the Taliban’s non-responsible and inhuman actions. He tweeted on Monday, June 27th that reports of illegal killings, forced displacement, property destruction and other human rights abuses in the Balkhab district of Sar-e-Pul are worrying. According to Bennett, these reports have become difficult to verify due to the disconnection of the Internet and telecommunications networks. However, he has called on the parties to comply with international humanitarian law.

Meanwhile, the Taliban deny killing of civilians in Balkhab, Sar-e-Pul. Abdul Salam Hanafi, the Taliban’s deputy chief of staff, called Mehdi Mujahid’s actions “seditionist” on Sunday, June 26th, during a meeting with representatives of the Balkhab people in the former parliament. According to him, the Taliban never give such permission to individuals and, besides, do not want to harm civilians. Zabihullah Mujahid, the group’s spokesman, also said that there were no civilian casualties in Balkhab. He called Amnesty International’s report on the killing of civilians in Balkhab “baseless.” The Taliban, meanwhile, have blocked media coverage and the presence of observers in the area.

Earlier, the Taliban also attacked Panjshir province and Andrab district of Baghlan to fight the National Resistance Front. According to documents, members of this group are interrogating and shooting civilians in the two provinces. Cases of beheadings and other atrocities have also been reported in Panjshir. In the past month and a half, the Taliban have killed about 50 civilians in Panjshir alone. Hundreds of Panjshiri and Andarabi youths have also been arrested and imprisoned in the province and other parts of Afghanistan, including Kabul.