This week it emerged that dozens of former Afghan soldiers have been killed or disappeared since the Taliban took over, in seemingly targeted acts of vengeance. Human Rights Watch puts the number of murdered and detained ex-uniformed officers at more than 100, with at least 43 documented in the provinces of Helmand, Ghazni, Kandahar and Kunduz alone since August.
Female ex-armed forces officers face a double risk to their lives from the new extremist rulers. Many are now enduring an underground existence, in constant fear for their lives. Last week a group of them contacted IranWire asking for their collective plight to be highlighted. They are seeking support from the international community to get out of the country.
Morsal served in the Afghan army for six years before the Taliban swept through Kabul, and spoke to IranWire under a pseudonym. Like her colleagues, she has barricaded herself indoors together with her family for the best part of three months now; apart from the constant fear for their safety, they are now facing acute financial stress.
"For the more than 100 days that the Taliban have been here, we have been imprisoned in our homes,” she said of herself and colleagues. “We can’t go anywhere, can’t talk to our friends. We’e lost our jobs and are just sitting here. Every few days we move to a different house so as not to be identified.”
When Morsal first signed up she faced an uphill struggle, with friends and families warning her she had chosen a dangerous career. "They said it wasn’t suitable for women. I pushed back because I loved the profession; I’m still happy and proud to have joined the army."
The Taliban announced a general amnesty for ex-government and military forces after taking control of the capital. But this did nothing to assuage the fears of thousands of Afghans who are now internally displaced for political reasons. In September, Taliban fighters shot a female police officer in front of her children in the western Afghanistan, and last month the Hasht-e Sobh newspaper reported the reprisal murder of two female ex-army officers in the city of Gardiz.
"We all know that the Taliban amnesty is a lie,” Morsal said. “We’ve seen what’s happened to ex-servicemen and women since the Taliban’s arrival. We saw soldiers abducted from their homes at night, and murdered along with their families. This is the reality of all Afghan men and women in the military now.”
Another former Afghan army officer, who has chosen the name Narges, trained dozens of young female officers and was involved in counter-terrorism operations during her half-decade of service. “Since the Taliban came, our lives have been getting darker every day,” she said from her current hiding place. “We are in a terrible situation, security-wise, economically and politically, and under threat from all sides. So intense is the pressure we don’t even use smartphones anymore; our phones are tracked and our locations could be revealed. We have to move around constantly and don’t stay in one place for more than one week.”
Like Morsal, Narges hasn’t received any income for three months now. But she knows there is no other option. “We are witnessing many killings. At night, men are dragged out of their homes, and a few days later, their bodies are found. Military women in Ghour, Badakhshan, Takhar and Kabul provinces have been abducted and tortured. They have even been killed in their homes.”
A recent joint resolution issued by women in the former Afghan army called on the international community, especially the United States, not to abandon them to their fate after 20 years of close cooperation. “We military women have been left alone in the midst of a host of armed, terrorist men whose hands were previously stained with the blood of the brave security forces and our people," it read in part. “Forgotten military women are calling on the international community and nations of the world to give us refuge. If attention is not paid to us, we do not know what bleak future awaits.”
In a statement, Patricia Gusman, the Asia director of Human Rights Watch, has also confirmed that the Taliban’s promise of a “general amnesty” has not deterred the killings and abductions of former security forces personnel. Gusman and others believe the targeting of ex-military and police officers is a deliberate policy by the Taliban aimed at suppressing opposition.