Taliban executions, beheadings in Afghanistan strike fear among those stuck inside country

Taliban executions, beheadings in Afghanistan strike fear among those stuck inside country

Afghan citizens face executions, forced marriages and other possible war crimes as the Taliban sweeps across the country, wrestling control from ineffective government forces as the U.S. troop withdrawal nears, according to U.S. officials and watchdog groups.

The militants have seized territory at an alarming rate while Afghan government troops and their allied militias fail to put up an effective resistance – surrendering at times without even putting up a fight.

The U.S. embassy in Kabul said Wednesday that it was receiving reports that Taliban members were executing surrendering Afghan troops and unlawfully detaining some members of the government, including military leaders, provincial officials and police officers.

The executions “could constitute war crimes,” the embassy tweeted.

A Taliban spokesman denied that the group was executing prisoners to the Wall Street Journal earlier this week, even as witness accounts contradicted that claim. The Taliban has also denied allegations that its militants have demanded conquered territories provide them with females aged 15 and older as brides.

Taliban fighters pose on the back of a vehicle in the city of Herat, west of Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021, after they took this province from Afghan government. The Taliban seized two more provinces and approached the outskirts of Afghanistan’s capital. (AP Photo/Hamed Sarfarazi)

Taliban fighters pose on the back of a vehicle in the city of Herat, west of Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021, after they took this province from Afghan government. The Taliban seized two more provinces and approached the outskirts of Afghanistan’s capital. (AP Photo/Hamed Sarfarazi)

“The Taliban’s statements in Doha do not resemble their actions in Badakhshan, Ghazni, Helmand & Kandahar,” Ross Wilson, the U.S. chargé d’affaires in Kabul, wrote on Twitter, referencing stalled peace talks going on in the capital of Qatar. “Attempts to monopolize power through violence, fear, & war will only lead to international isolation.”

He has also accused the Taliban of “targeted assassinations.”

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A report from the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission on civilian casualties in the country during the first six months of 2021 found that 1,677 were killed and another 3,644 wounded by the end of June. 

That’s an 80% increase over the same period in 2020, according to the report, and “the bloodiest six months for Afghan civilians since AIHRC started documenting.”

The group blamed the Taliban for more than 900 of the deaths and over 2,000 injuries – double what it was responsible for last year. Pro-government forces were blamed for 229 deaths and 565 injuries.

A Taliban flag flies from the clocktower of the Herat provincial official office, in Herat, Afghanistan, west of Kabul, on Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Hamed Sarfarazi)

A Taliban flag flies from the clocktower of the Herat provincial official office, in Herat, Afghanistan, west of Kabul, on Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Hamed Sarfarazi)

Faridoon Hazeen, an Afghan translator who helped U.S. forces in the region, told Fox News on Friday that the Taliban’s rapid sweep across the country left him fearing for his life.

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“I feel like a man drowning,” the 39-year-old father of four said. “I am reaching out to anything and anyone to save me.”

The Taliban has a history of targeting translators like Hazeen, and the State Department has been working to fly many of them and their families to safety with Operation Allies Refuge. President Biden, away at Camp David, held a virtual meeting Saturday with his national security team to discuss efforts to evacuate the interpreters and other at-risk Afghans, according to the White House.

“Our hearts go out to the brave Afghan men and women who are now at risk,” Biden said in a statement Saturday afternoon. “We are working to evacuate thousands of those who helped our cause and their families.”

There have also been reports of attacks on Shiite Muslims – who follow a different sect of Islam than the Sunni-adhering Taliban, as well as business owners and other civilians.

Most of the civilian casualties were found in the southwestern portion of the country, which includes Kandahar and Helmand province, which the Taliban seized Friday, when it also took at least three other provincial capitals.

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Roughly 400,000 Afghan citizens have been displaced by the violence since May, according to the United Nations.

Amid the chaos, the U.S. is drawing down its military presence and civilian personnel.

The Pentagon announced Friday it was sending 3,000 service members to Kabul to help the State Department evacuate the embassy there. By Saturday, the number had increased to 5,000.

Other Western nations are also scaling down or shuttering their embassies in the city, and even the U.N. said it was relocating some staff members and monitoring the situation.

A passenger walks to the departures terminal of Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021. As a Taliban offensive encircles the Afghan capital, there's increasingly only one way out for those fleeing the war, and only one way in for U.S. troops sent to protect American diplomats still on the ground: the airport. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

A passenger walks to the departures terminal of Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021. As a Taliban offensive encircles the Afghan capital, there’s increasingly only one way out for those fleeing the war, and only one way in for U.S. troops sent to protect American diplomats still on the ground: the airport. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader from California, said the Biden administration was badly mismanaging the withdrawal in a statement Friday after a phone call with Afghanistan’s ambassador to the U.S., Adela Raz.

“At a time when our troops are in harm’s way, and our Afghan allies are being targeted and killed, we cannot turn a blind eye to the situation that has spiraled out of control,” McCarthy said. “Our brave men and women in uniform and the allies who stood beside us for the past 20 years deserve better.”

The Taliban has seized Afghanistan’s second, third and fourth-largest cities, as well as more than two-thirds of the country’s 34 provinces.

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Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, has urged the Biden administration to “hammer” Taliban forces with airstrikes to counter their offensive.

Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said Friday that the Afghan military has the technology, training and equipment to fight back – but needs to actually step up and do it.

“They have the material, the physical, the tangible advantages,” he said. “It’s time now to use those advantages.”

President Biden had a similar message to the Afghan military earlier this week.

“They’ve got to want to fight,” he said Tuesday. “They have outnumbered the Taliban.”

Fox News’ Greg Palkot, Marisa Schultz and the Associated Press contributed to this report.