[Islamabad] The Afghan Taliban have vehemently denied US and British allegations that their fighters are responsible for the massacre of civilians in Spin Boldak, a town in Kandahar Province they recently captured near the Pakistan border.
“Such baseless allegations have been framed at the behest of [Afghan President] Ashraf Ghani, who want to prolong [the existence of] his puppet regime in the country,” Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesperson based in Doha, Qatar, and a member of the group’s negotiating team, told The Media Line.
“At a time when the Taliban leadership is fully involved with the regional powers [in efforts] to bring peace and stability to a war-torn country, such baseless propaganda is nothing but a crude conspiracy to sabotage the peace process,” Shaheen added.
“We also firmly and precisely reject the false and baseless accusations of revenge killings by the Taliban’s fighters,” he said.
Shaheen told The Media Line, “A group of four Afghan journalists visited Spin Boldak to investigate the reports of extrajudicial executions and mass disappearances in the district. The journalists visited across the district but did not find any evidence of such reports. Unfortunately, the National Directorate of Security [the NDS, the primary intelligence organ of Afghanistan] detained all of them on their return to Kandahar city.
“We also conducted a high-level investigation about such allegations, but our inquiry commission found nothing except the killing of two persons in a personal feud,” he continued.
Shaheen also informed The Media Line that “a high-level Taliban delegation led by their political head Sheikh Abdul Hakeem Haqqani met with Enrique Mora, deputy secretary-general of the EU’s European External Action Service (EEAS), and Tomas Niklasson, EU special representative for Afghanistan, in Doha on Monday.
The EEAS is the diplomatic service and combined foreign and defense ministry of the European Union.
“Our delegation emphasized its commitment to peace, saying our priority is to find a peaceful solution to the conflict,” Shaheen said.
However, Washington and London accused the Taliban of atrocities that may constitute “war crimes” in Spin Boldak town.
The US and British embassies in Kabul on Monday both said in separate tweets, “In Spin Boldak, Kandahar, the Taliban massacred dozens of civilians in revenge killings. These murders could constitute war crimes; they must be investigated & those Taliban fighters or commanders responsible held accountable.”
Earlier on Sunday, the National Directorate of Security confirmed the detention of four journalists in Kandahar, accused of spreading enemy propaganda.
The NDS alleged that while visiting Spin Boldak, these journalists met Mullah Yaqoob, a son of deceased Taliban founder Mullah Mohammed Umar.
The arrested journalists are Bismillah Watandost, Qudrat Ullah Sultani and Munib Obaidi, all associated with local radio, and Sanaullah Syaam, a photojournalist for China’s Xinhua News Agency.
Patricia Gossman, associate director for the Asia division at Human Rights Watch, said in a press note, “The arrests of journalists in Kandahar underscore rising concerns the Afghan government is trying to shield itself from media criticism.”
Meanwhile, President Ghani on Monday blamed the country’s deteriorating security on Washington for “abruptly” deciding to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan.
“I had warned Washington the withdrawal would have consequences,” he said, addressing a joint session of the National Assembly to speak on the situation in the country.
Ghani said an “imported” and “hasty” process was imposed on Afghanistan, which resulted in “legitimizing and the insurgent group instead of achieving peace.”
Taliban chief spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said in response, via Twitter, “Declarations of war, accusations and lies cannot prolong the life of Ghani’s government; his time has run out, God willing.”
Since the US began its withdrawal on May 1, the Taliban has been taking control of more and more territory.
Afghan security forces have battled against the intensified assaults, but the Taliban has been able to step up its offensives designed to take control of key provincial capitals including Lashkargah, Kandahar and Herat.
Meanwhile, fighting in Lashkargah, the capital of Helmand Province, continued for a sixth day. The combat in the city intensified just hours after the Afghan government announced the deployment of hundreds of Special Forces operators to the area. Fierce clashes along with heavy casualties on both sides were reported.
“The central prison and the police headquarters are under siege, and clashes are focused on capturing the district governor’s compound,” local media reported.
Nine dead corpses and eight wounded were taken to Boost Hospital in Lashkargah on Monday, officials said.
The Taliban captured Lashkargah’s national TV and radio studio and reportedly began Sharia-based transmissions.
It could be the first provincial capital to fall to the Taliban.
The Afghanistan Defense Ministry on Monday confirmed that the Afghan Air Force conducted strikes on Taliban forces on the outskirts of Lashkargah.
Helmand-based officials confirmed that Islamist fighters had attacked the central prison and were repelled by the strikes.
The ministry also said the US Air Force carried out strikes on Taliban positions in Helmand Province.
This is the second time that US aerial forces have attacked Taliban positions in the battle centers in the past seven days. The first attack was carried out in Herat Province in the west, where the Taliban had arrived at the entrances to Herat city, the provincial capital.
Yasir SalarZai, a lawyer and a human rights activist, told The Media Line, “The situation in Lashkargah city has deteriorated and the hospitals are full of injured people while there is a shortage of medicines as well as food.
“The city is without electricity, so the mobile and internet services are also suspended,” he said.
Irina Tsukerman, a New York-based national security expert, told The Media Line, “The comments by the United States are a brazen attempt to whitewash accountability for abandoning Afghanistan to fall to the Taliban.
“In fact, this result was inevitable and easily predictable. Both the Trump and the Biden administrations made idealistic claims about how it is not the US responsibility to solve security issues in Afghanistan, but in fact, these issues have a global impact and will directly affect US interests sooner or later,” Tsukerman added.
“Issuing lamentations through official channels does nothing to mitigate the damage from the premature and unnecessary US withdrawal,” she said.
“Whether or not the fault for the current predicament lies in a failed strategy by the US or in corruption in Afghanistan …, it does not absolve the current [American] administration from its responsibility to prevent the spread of extremism and to make sure that 20 years of US involvement do not go to waste,” Tsukerman added.
“There were many ways to bring peace to a war-torn country and to prevent the current scenario, but none of that was ever discussed seriously,” she said.
“Perhaps it’s finally time to learn that sometimes Victory and defeat are each of the same prices,” Tsukerman said.
Umer Karim is a visiting fellow at the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies (RUSI) in London focusing on Afghanistan’s crisis. He told The Media Line, “What is currently happening in Afghanistan was expected and all involved actors including the Afghan government knew about it.”
“President Ghani repeatedly asserted that Afghan security forces are capable enough to handle the post-withdrawal security situation, which is not the case,” Karim continued.
The “Taliban first wanted to secure the rural hinterland of Afghanistan and put urban centers under siege, and now comes the next step: They are trying to capture them [the cities], so their strategy of step-by-step pressure-building and capturing territory is quite clear,” he said.
“The Afghan government, on the other hand, is dependent upon local warlords and militias to hold ground and on aerial support from US forces, exposing the [lack of] professional skills and capability of Afghan security forces,” Karim added.
“All the actors involved in this conflict have no regard for the lives and belongings of civilians, who are increasingly bearing the brunt of this fighting,” he further said.
“It is clear that both the Afghan government and the Taliban have now chosen the path of war, so negotiations or peace-building exercises won’t amount to anything unless one actor gets the upper hand on the battlefield,” Karim said.
Syed Najam Wali Bukhari, a political analyst based in Afghanistan’s northeastern Badakhshan Province, told The Media Line, “The Afghans are still suffering from the longest and deadliest conflict in their history.
“The substantial flow of civilian casualties comes as the Afghan security forces and the Taliban are battling for control across the country,” he said.
“There is no doubt the Taliban now controls the largest part of the country, as most of the US-led foreign troops have left Afghanistan,” Bukhari continued. “Though the US and some key regional powers have tried to find a political settlement through talks, this is unfortunately delayed.
“The hasty withdrawal of the US-led forces has left a big question mark over what will happen in a country shattered by war. Indeed, the innocent Afghan civilians will have to pay a heavy price for peace and stability. Once again we are being pushed into a cataclysmic situation that never seems to end,” he said.
“How long will we continue to suffer the funerals of our loved ones no authority is there to tell us,” Bukhari said.