I passed the cart and a few seconds later the bomb exploded. It was like an earthquake. It blew me back about three or four meters. . . . I woke up and saw people and body parts everywhere: fingers, hands, feet, toes, almost everything. . . . People were screaming and others were screaming that another bomb would explode . . . . I was wearing a white suit that day and I saw that my suit was red. . . .
I can't walk fast now. You know, I was a boxer. I can't box anymore. . . . My leg hurts everyday and I have a hard time walking. . . . When I think about these things it brings tears to my eyes. When I think about these things and put them all together it makes me want to leave this country.
-Mohammad Yusef Aresh, describing a bomb attack in Kabul, July 5, 2006.
Since early 2006, Taliban, Hezb-e Islami, and other armed groups in Afghanistan have carried out an increasing number of armed attacks that either target civilians or are launched without regard for the impact on civilian life. While going about ordinary activities-walking down the street or riding in a bus-many Afghan civilians have faced sudden and terrifying violence: shootings, ambushes, bombings, or other violent attacks.
These insurgent attacks have caused terrible and profound harm to the Afghan civilian population. Attacks have killed and maimed mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, parents, and children, leaving behind widows, widowers, and orphans. Many civilians have been specifically targeted by the insurgents, including aid workers, doctors, day laborers, mechanics, students, clerics, and civilian government employees such as teachers and engineers. Attacks have also left lasting physical and psychological scars on victims and eyewitnesses, and caused tremendous pain and suffering to surviving family members.
This report is about insurgent attacks and their consequences. It is based on accounts provided by witnesses, victims, and victims' relatives, and a thorough review of records and reports of incidents in 2006 and through the first two months of 2007. The report also includes an assessment of statements by insurgent groups themselves, who often claim responsibility for attacks that kill and injure large numbers of civilians.
Anti-government forces are not the only forces responsible for civilian deaths and injuries in Afghanistan. At least 230 civilians were killed during coalition or NATO operations in 2006, some of which appear to have violated the laws of war. While there is no evidence suggesting that coalition or NATO forces have intentionally directed attacks against civilians, in a number of cases international forces have conducted indiscriminate attacks or otherwise failed to take adequate precautions to prevent harm to civilians. Human Rights Watch has reported on several of these cases and will continue to monitor the conduct of such forces. But in this report we focus on the civilian victims of insurgent attacks, and on the effects of these attacks on civilian life in Afghanistan.
Civilian deaths from insurgent attacks skyrocketed in 2006. Though exact casualty numbers from previous years are not available, increases in overall numbers of insurgent attacks in 2006 indicate that 2006 was the deadliest year for civilians in Afghanistan since 2001. Roadside bombs and other bomb attacks more than doubled since the previous year. Human Rights Watch counted 189 bomb attacks in 2006, killing nearly 500 civilians. Another 177 civilians were killed in shootings, assassinations, or ambushes.
Overall, at least 669 Afghan civilians were killed in at least 350 separate armed attacks by anti-government forces in 2006. (Almost half of these attacks appear to have been intentionally launched at civilians or civilian objects.) Hundreds of civilians also suffered serious injuries, including burns, severe lacerations, broken bones, and severed limbs. The total number of civilian casualties-Afghans killed or wounded in insurgent attacks-was well over 1,000 for the year.
Suicide bombings, once very rare in Afghanistan, now occur on a regular basis. At least 136 suicide attacks occurred in Afghanistan during 2006-a six-fold increase over the previous year. (This count is a subset of the 189 bomb attacks noted above.) At least 803 Afghan civilians were killed or injured in these suicide attacks (272 killed and 531 injured). At least 80 of these attacks-a clear majority-were on military targets, yet these 80 attacks caused significant civilian casualties, killing five times as many civilians as combatants (181 civilians versus 37 combatants).
Civilian deaths and injuries from insurgent attacks have continued in 2007. In the first two months of 2007, insurgent forces have carried out at least 25 armed attacks resulting in civilian casualties, including suicide attacks and other bombings, shootings, kidnappings, and executions. These attacks have killed at least 52 Afghan civilians and injured 83 more.
Insurgent attacks have also done significant damage to civilian property. In addition to bombings and other attacks that resulted in damaged shops, buildings, and infrastructure, insurgents specifically targeted local schools, which are often the only symbol of government in remote areas. In 2006, bombing and arson attacks on Afghan schools doubled, from 91 reported attacks in 2005 to 190 attacks in 2006. Attacks have continued into 2007.
Violations of the Laws of War
Civilian casualties during armed conflict are not necessarily the result of violations of international humanitarian law (the laws of war). The nature of modern armed conflict is such that civilians are frequently killed and injured during fighting that is nonetheless in accordance with the rules of warfare.
However, Human Rights Watch investigations found that many civilian casualties from insurgent attacks in Afghanistan in 2006 were intentional or avoidable. Insurgent forces regularly targeted civilians, or attacked military targets and civilians without distinction or with the knowledge that attacks would cause disproportionate harm to civilians.
Such attacks violate international humanitarian law. Serious violations of international humanitarian law are considered war crimes, and are subject to the jurisdiction of the R0me statute of the International Criminal Court, which Afghanistan ratified in 2003.
There is little question that responsibility for most attacks lies with the Taliban and other insurgent groups. Taliban spokesmen have claimed responsibility for over two-thirds of recorded bombing attacksprimarily those in the southern and southeastern provinces-although in some cases their claims may be unfounded boasts. As for attacks in eastern and northern areas of Afghanistan, there is significant evidence of involvement by the Hezb-e Islami network under the command of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, which has been increasingly active in insurgent activities. Other groups associated with Taliban and Hezb-e Islami forces, including Jaish al Muslemin and forces under Jalaluddin Haqqani, are likely responsible for other attacks in eastern areas and districts around Khost and Jalalabad.
Justifications by Insurgents
Insurgent forces in Afghanistan often claim that their military operations are generally lawful, or that the targeting of civilians is legally permissible.
Media statements by various Taliban commanders and spokesmen, and documents attributed to the Taliban shura (council), indicate that Taliban leaders consider it permissible to attack Afghan government workers and teachers, employees of non-governmental organizations, or anyone who supports the government of President Hamid Karzai. Taliban spokesmen have claimed responsibility for various kidnappings and killings of foreign humanitarian aid workers, claiming that they are killed because they are "spying for the Americans" or for NATO or coalition forces.
Such statements are blatantly contrary to international law, which prohibits all intentional attacks on civilians not directly involved in hostilities, and they implicate Taliban leaders in war crimes. Such statements also facilitate and encourage lower level commanders to continue violating the laws of war.
While insurgent spokespersons and commanders have at times expressed concern for the security of civilians, these statements are unconvincing given the record of insurgents detailed in this report. Many Afghans, referring to the high number of civilians who have been killed in insurgent attacks, told Human Rights Watch that they considered insurgents' claims of concern preposterous. Moreover, when Taliban and other insurgent leaders make these statements, the focus typically is placed on civilians who do not work for the government or NGOs; thus, statements of concern primarily serve to highlight insurgents' disregard for the security of other civilians, such as civilian government workers, whom they do not consider to be "innocent." Expressing concerns for some civilians does not justify unlawful acts against others.
Types of Illegal Attack
Insurgent groups in Afghanistan have carried out the following types of illegal attacks in recent years:
Intentional attacks on civilians, such as assassinations of civilian officials or schoolteachers, or bombings aimed at crowded bazaars or other civilian objects such as schools or medical clinics.
Indiscriminate attacks, in which the attacker uses a means (type of weapon) or method (how the weapon is used) that does not distinguish between civilians and combatants; for instance, an anti-vehicular landmine on a commonly-used road, or a suicide bomber who is sent to detonate in a populated area without regard to civilian loss.
Disproportionate attacks, in which an attack is expected to cause civilian harm that is excessive in relation to anticipated military goals; for instance, when a bomb directed at a minor military target can be reasonably expected to cause high loss of civilian life.
Some insurgent attacks also appear to be primarily intended to spread terror among the civilian population, a tactic that violates international humanitarian law. Insurgents have targeted civilian government personnel and humanitarian workers, apparently with the intent of instilling fear among the broader population and as a warning not to work in similar capacities, and have delivered numerous messages and announcements threatening Afghans to not work for government offices or non-governmental humanitarian organizations. Insurgent groups have also carried out several bombings in civilian areas which appear to be specifically intended to terrorize local populations. In addition, anti-government forces have regularly threatened civilian populations by posting written documents, so-called night-letters, warning civilians not to cooperate with the government or with international forces.
During many attacks, particularly suicide bombings, insurgents have disguised themselves as civilians, in violation of the international legal prohibition against perfidy. Perfidious attacks are ones in which a combatant feigns protected status, such as being a civilian, in order to carry out an attack. Such attacks have contributed to a general blurring of the distinction between civilians and combatants in Afghanistan, which in turn has raised the risk for civilians of being mistakenly targeted during military operations carried out by government and coalition forces. Notably, NATO forces in the last months of 2006 appear to have repeatedly mistakenly opened fire on civilian vehicles approaching convoys, erroneously believing, based in part on past perfidious attacks, that they were suicide attackers.
International humanitarian law requires combatants, in all military operations, to take all feasible precautions to avoid, or at least minimize, loss of civilian life and property. Yet insurgents have conducted many intentional attacks on civilians, which are clear war crimes. They have also attacked military objectives causing indiscriminate or disproportionate harm to civilians in violation of the laws of war.
Many recorded insurgent attacks took place in the midst of crowded civilian areas, or in close proximity to residential and commercial areas. In addition, bombers in many cases used very powerful explosives, the blast effects of which would be known to cause considerable loss of civilian life and damage to civilian buildings beyond the destruction or neutralization of the military target.
Often such attacks have involved suicide bombers on foot or in vehicles. While a suicide bomber is theoretically a very precise weapon, Human Rights Watch found that in practice suicide bombers frequently detonated their explosives prematurely or inaccurately, and without regard to minimizing civilian loss. Also, these attacks almost invariably involved the attacker feigning civilian status, which greatly increases risks to civilians. The willingness of Taliban and other insurgent commanders to continue to deploy in highly populated areas a weapon-suicide bombers-that in practice is highly indiscriminate amounts to a serious violation of international humanitarian law, a war crime.
Human Rights Watch is also concerned about the actions of government and international forces in protecting civilian populations from the effects of hostilities. International humanitarian law requires all parties to a conflict to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians under their control against the effects of attacks. That includes avoiding locating military objectives within or near densely populated areas. These obligations apply to both insurgents and Afghan government and international forces. Thus, while Afghan government and international forces are responsible for providing security for the civilian population, they should also act to avoid placing civilians at risk in the event of insurgent attacks, such as unnecessarily placing military installations in populated areas or patrolling in crowded places.
Beyond the deaths and the injuries, Afghans have been deeply scarred emotionally by insurgent attacks.
"Sharzad," a 9-year old girl, was severely injured in a Kabul bombing in March 2006 aimed at a senior member of the Afghan parliament: her stomach was torn open, spilling her intestines. Sharzad told Human Rights Watch that the bombing occurred just after she left a shrine where she had just offered prayers; she was walking with her brother.
The explosion happened on our way home. It cut my stomach open and I thought I was going to die. . . . Sometimes I dream about that day-I have nightmares. I thought that I would not survive. I started saying the holy Kalimah [the martyr's prayer] when I was hurt that day, because I thought I was going to die.
Ghulam, from Kabul, told Human Rights Watch about how his morning commute in July 2006 was turned into a nightmare by a bombing on the bus he was riding:
The explosion was very bright and made a nasty sound. Inside the bus was like hell. The bus was engulfed in flames. . . . The first thing I realized was that I was very badly burnt. . . .
The man sitting next to me died on the spot, I couldn't move him. I was bleeding very badly but I managed to get out of the bus. I shouted at the police and people to come and help me but everyone was scared and were screaming and running away from me.
Attacks have caused immense grief among surviving relatives. Mohammad Hashim, whose wife Bibi Sadaat was shot and killed in a May 2006 ambush in northern Afghanistan, likely by insurgent forces, lamented his loss:
She was a good wife. It was like we were newly married everyday. She was my best friend. . . . I am lost now and the only thing I have found is depression. Whenever I enter a room that she had been in, I get depressed. . . . Because my wife is dead, I have not only had enough of this government-I have had enough of this world.
Insurgent attacks on civilians have also severely harmed the fabric of daily life in Afghanistan. Besides the obvious and primary effects of attacks-death and injury to hundreds of civilians-attacks have caused broader harms. Ordinary Afghans-farmers, taxi drivers, builders-are already struggling with broken local economies, a lack of employment, and inadequate health care, education and social services. Since many attacks have been launched at humanitarian and development workers and government officials, many vital government and development programs have been suspended in unstable areas. The result is that already low levels of development and humanitarian assistance have dropped even lower, making life for Afghan civilians even more difficult.
Many Afghan families have been displaced by the widespread and seemingly random violence, and refugees abroad appear hesitant to return to increasingly unsafe areas. Over 100,000 Afghans have been displaced because of security problems and hostilities in southern districts in the last year. Hundreds of thousands of refugees in Iran and Pakistan remain unwilling to return to their homes in these areas, in part because of security problems; most returns in recent years have been to urban centers like the capital, Kabul. And many others have avoided return. Over 3 million refugees remain outside of Afghanistan.
Armed conflict and displacement has been especially serious in and around southern and southeastern provinces, including Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgon, Zabul, Paktia, Paktika, and Kunar. These are areas in which Taliban and other insurgent forces have tribal or family roots, or other base of support, and which are close to the Pakistan border. Over 70 percent of recorded lethal bomb attacks in 2006 occurred in these provinces. Many Afghans and humanitarian workers consider the rural districts in these areas to be "conflict zones." Governmental, developmental and humanitarian assistance in these areas is almost non-existent.
It is not surprising that these areas are particularly unstable. There is strong evidence that insurgent groups operate freely in areas across the border, in Pakistan's tribal areas, with minimal interference from Pakistani authorities. Many insurgent groups regularly cross the Pakistan border and take refuge in border areas or even in Pakistani cities like Chitral, Peshawar, and Quetta. There are increasing and detailed reports about Pakistani government officials at various levels providing assistance or support to insurgent groups active in Afghanistan, even as bomb attacks and other violence have begun to spread into Pakistani territory. Some local Pakistani officials have even openly admitted to providing support.
In this context, Pakistan's continuing insistence that it is vigorously cracking down on insurgent groups has become impossible to take seriously. However, it would be erroneous to suggest that all of Afghanistan's instability is connected to insurgents having easy sanctuary in Pakistan. Insurgent-related activity (and its accompanying problems) is not limited to southern and southeastern provinces on the Pakistan border. On the contrary, anti-government forces have carried out numerous bombings and killings in northern and western provinces, and in Kabul city, and general instability has affected life in almost all parts of the country. Almost one-in-three insurgent attacks in which civilians have been killed have taken place outside of the border areas. Insurgent groups are operating with ease throughout many parts of Afghanistan.
Many Afghans complained to Human Rights Watch about intentional attacks on civilians and about the high toll on civilians when military targets were attacked.
Mohammad Aresh, quoted at the beginning of this report, the victim of a July 5, 2006 bombing in Kabul that appeared to have targeted civilians, could not understand why insurgents would carry out such an attack. "What's my mistake?" he told Human Rights Watch. "Why does the Taliban want to kill me?"
I am a worker. I don't have any enemies. I don't know any of these Taliban. . . . I don't know any of these people. I am not their enemy. I didn't see any ISAF people [NATO forces] that day [when the bombing occurred] . . . I just saw my people, Afghan people. What was the target, the people? The Taliban, they are targeting everybody and nobody. I don't know what or who was the target that day. I don't know what their target is.
Habibullah, who lost a brother in a May 2006 bombing in Kabul that appeared to have been meant for a passing NATO convoy, condemned those who carried out the attack: "The bastards-they blew themselves up. They did not kill the foreigners. They only killed innocent people. It was like they tried to kill children."
Since the fall of the Taliban government in November 2001, Afghan insurgent forces-mostly Taliban, Hezb-e Islami, and allied anti-government groups-have launched thousands of armed attacks on Afghan government, US, coalition, and NATO forces, and on the civilian population. International and Afghan military forces have carried out extensive military operations against these insurgent forces, in many cases causing large numbers of civilian casualties. The fighting has grown more intense over time. Although stability has been achieved at various times-for instance, presidential and parliamentary elections were held in 2004 and 2005 without major disruption-Afghanistan's general security situation has deteriorated from late 2001 to the present, especially in the last two years. The most intense fighting to date occurred in 2006, including major hostilities in southern provinces around Kandahar, and in and around Kunar province, on the eastern border with Pakistan. Government and international officials, and insurgent commanders, have suggested that hostilities in 2007 will be even more intense.
International and Afghan government forces
As of early 2007, there are about 45,000 international troops in Afghanistan. Roughly 32,000 are under the UN-mandated and NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), and are stationed in Kabul and in different provinces around the country, with the largest concentrations in the south. ISAF's primary stated goal is to provide security for the government of President Hamid Karzai and to defend government territory against insurgent operations. The United States and some of its allies have an additional 10,000 to 13,000 troops in the country not under NATO command, primarily at Bagram air base north of Kabul and in eastern areas along the Pakistani border. Their primary mission is directed against al Qaeda and other forces suspected of involvement in international terrorism.
In addition, there are approximately 34,000 Afghan troops in the Afghan military, some of which operate alongside international forces during ISAF and non-ISAF operations. There are an unknown number of other unofficial combatants linked to various local commanders, some of whom sometimes cooperate with international forces during military operations.
Human Rights Watch has repeatedly reported on human rights concerns with both international and government forces, including concerns about civilian causalities during military operations, and human rights abuses by local military and police.
The insurgency in Afghanistan is comprised of a number of armed groups. The diversity of the groups is reflected in the use of an acronym by Afghan government and allied coalition forces to describe the groups who are fighting against the government and allied forces: AGE for "Anti-Government Elements." This acronym, as used by the government and its allies, is meant to cover a variety of groups, including tribal militias contesting central government authority; criminal networks, particularly those involved in the booming narcotics trade; and most of all, groups ideologically opposed to the Afghan government, such as the Taliban and the warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and his Hezb-e Islami ("the Islamic Party").
The Taliban movement Taliban forces have claimed responsibility for most (but not all) of the attacks documented in this report. In many cases, Taliban spokesmen (usually Mohammed Hanif or Qari Yousuf Ahmadi) claimed responsibility for the attacks by contacting the media, although it is impossible to determine to what extent such spokesmen are genuinely representative of the Taliban and have access to information. (Mohammed Hanif was captured by the Afghan government in January 2007.) In other cases, the attacks are associated with "night-letters" issued by groups identifying themselves with some variation on the title of "the Taliban" or on stationary bearing a stamp of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the name of the Taliban-led government that controlled much of the country between 1996 and 2001.
After the United States ousted the Taliban in November 2001, Taliban forces regrouped in their historic powerbase: Afghanistan's predominantly ethnic Pashtun southern provinces, particularly Kandahar, and in Pakistan, within districts in Balochistan and in North and South Waziristan (the two largest areas of the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas), both with very large Pashtun populations.
The Taliban movement, however, is not a simple and monolithic entity. Most analysts believe that the movement now combines as many as 40 militant groups, some organized as political factions, others based on Pashtun tribal or regional affiliations. Given the disparate nature of this grouping, it is difficult to estimate how many troops the Taliban can effectively mobilize, but estimates vary from 5,000 (by the US military) to 15,000 (by Pakistani officials) including Pashtun tribal militias. One indication of the increasing strength and boldness of the Taliban is that in 2006 their forces engaged NATO in battalion-sized assaults with sustained logistical and engineering support. Another indication came from the increasing public presence of Taliban supporters, many of whom had switched allegiances or at least avoided openly espousing the Taliban cause after the government's 2001 defeat by the US-led coalition.
The Taliban's unexpected military and political resilience in southern Afghanistan in 2006 prompted NATO to try to reach a localized accommodation or truce with Taliban forces, following the model of the Pakistan government's peace agreement with Pakistani Taliban groups. (More details of the Pakistani peace agreement with the Taliban appear below.) In mid-2006, British forces agreed to leave the town of Musa Qala, in Helmand province, if Taliban forces also agreed to withdraw. The much-criticized agreement ended in early December 2006 when Taliban forces and NATO troops again engaged in heavy clashes there.
The Taliban seem to be operating under three separate geographical command structures, corresponding to the major political centers of southern and southeastern Afghanistan: Jalalabad, Paktia/Paktika, and Kandahar. Taliban activity in each area (as well as in Pakistani areas in Baluchistan and Waziristan) seems to be coordinated through a series of shuras (councils) bringing together other Pashtun tribal militias and representatives of various other political groups, including Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-e Islami. Smaller groups seem to operate independently of this structure, although they share the Taliban's ideological and political opposition to the current Afghan government and its international supporters. In addition, several Pakistan-based allied groups appear to be aiding the Taliban, in various ways. According to US and other military officials, cited below, the central leadership of the Taliban movement is now widely believed to be located in the Pakistani city of Quetta, a few hours drive south from Kandahar.
Mullah Omar, who was the undisputed leader of the Taliban government between 1996 and 2001, still appears to hold a position of supreme authority. A document purporting to set out rules of engagement and a code of conduct for the Taliban, circulated in November of 2006, was signed by "the highest leader of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan"-a title not previously used by Mullah Omar, but widely believed now to refer to him.
After Mullah Omar, the most publicly prominent Taliban military commander is Mullah Dadullah, a long-time Taliban fighter who lost a leg while fighting the forces of the Northern Alliance in 1994. The forty-year-old Dadullah is believed to be in charge of the insurgency campaign against the Afghan government and international forces, and he has boasted of training and dispatching suicide bombers, as well as coordinating attacks against government officials. Dadullah is often the public face of Taliban militancy, frequently appearing on propaganda DVDs and issuing press statements.
Dadullah gained international notoriety for his brutality during the rule of the Taliban. Among other abuses, Human Rights Watch documented Dadullah's campaign against the Hazara population of Yakaolang district, in the mainly Shi'a Hazarajat region, in June 2001, a campaign during which forces under his command killed dozens of civilians, displaced thousands, and destroyed 4,500 homes and 500 business and public buildings in a two-day period. Dadullah was captured by anti-Taliban forces during the fighting in northern Afghanistan in October 2001, but escaped under mysterious circumstances, likely as part of a deal by Northern Alliance forces for surrender of other Taliban forces. During a video released on the occasion of the Muslim holiday of the Eid al-Adha (December 30, 2006) Dadullah extolled the efficacy of the Islamic "equivalent" of an atomic bomb-suicide bombings-and applauded Muslim youth for undertaking "martyrdom" operations.
Forces under Jalaluddin Haqqani
Jalaluddin Haqqani is widely believed to be a top military commander in the Taliban-led alliance, though he maintains a relatively low public profile. He is one of the most experienced of the military commanders who fought against Soviet occupation, with a power base in Khost, extending to Paktia and Paktika provinces. Haqqani began cooperating with the Taliban in 1995 and eventually held several high-level posts in the Taliban government. In August 2006, Haqqani issued an audio statement reiterating his commitment to fighting international forces under "the white flag" of the Taliban.
Haqqani is a member of the Zadran tribe and provides a vital link between the Kandahari-based Taliban and the eastern and northern Pashtun groups, particularly in the Pakistani provinces of Northern and Southern Waziristan (for a discussion of the Taliban's de facto rule over Pakistani Waziristan, see sections below). US military officials have claimed that Haqqani supervises much of the training of forces opposed to the Afghan government, including fighters from Central Asia and the Arab world. Jalaluddin Haqqani's son, Sirajuddin, is now believed to exercise considerable day-to-day authority, not just in Afghanistan, but also in neighboring Pakistani Waziristan.
Haqqani is alleged to have participated in some of the Taliban's most brutal campaigns of "ethnic cleansing" around Kabul in 1996 and 1997, as the Taliban cemented their control over the ethnic Tajik population north of Kabul. As the Taliban's Minister of Tribal Affairs, Haqqani had extensive contacts with tribes and Pakistani officials across the border, and he is believed to have helped Osama bin Laden build a network of training camps in Khost and Nangarhar and escape from US forces during late 2001.
Forces under Gulbuddin HekmatyarThe Hezb-e Islami ("Islamic Party") of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a longtime warlord whose notoriety was solidified by his shelling and rocket attacks on Kabul in the 1990s, is a Pashtun force operating primarily in southeastern Afghanistan (Kunar in particular). Hekmatyar, a university-trained engineer, professes a very strict interpretation of Islam, but still appears to be less restrictive than the Taliban regarding such matters as allowing education for girls and accepting elections as a means of selecting governments.
Hekmatyar was one of the leading insurgent commanders in the struggle against the Soviet-backed communist government in the 1980s and early 1990s, and the chief recipient of financial and military support from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United States in the late 1980s and the early 1990s. After the communist government fell in 1992, Hekmatyar's forces entered Kabul, but fought with other mujahidin forces over control of government ministries. His forces were soon pushed back to the south of Kabul, but he continued to rocket the city and engage with other mujahidin forces in Kabul for most of 1992-1995. Hekmatyar's rocket attacks on Kabul during this period killed thousands of civilians. Human Rights Watch has called for further investigation of these events and for the prosecution of Hekmatyar and officers under his command for their involvement.
Hekmatyar and the Taliban were initially bitter rivals (Hekmatyar was forced into exile when the Taliban finally conquered Kabul in 1996), and as late as November 2002, Hekmatyar publicly denied cooperating with the Taliban. However, on December 25, 2002, Hekmatyar and the Taliban publicly announced that they were coordinating their activity against the Afghan government and its international supporters. Media reports in 2006 indicate that Hekmatyar's son, Jamaluddin, has represented Hezb-e Islami at meetings with the Taliban.
It appears that the two groups are united more by a common enemy than shared aims, and have not merged their organizations. Hezb-e Islami regularly issues its own communiqus, distinct from those of the Taliban, and assumes responsibility for its own attacks. Numerous sources in northern Afghanistan told Human Rights Watch in late 2006 that Hezb-e Islami had reorganized political and intelligence networks in areas around Kunduz and Mazar-e Sharif-areas in which the Taliban have little to no political support or operational capacity. Afghan analysts have questioned whether Hekmatyar would ever fully cooperate with the Taliban, given their different ideologies and his explicit leadership ambitions.
As far back as the early 1970s, Pakistan has provided military, economic, and political support for different warring factions within Afghanistan. Throughout the 1980s, Pakistan was the most significant front-line state serving as a secure base and training ground for the mujahidin fighting against the Soviet intervention. After the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in the late 1980s and US attention shifted to Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War, Pakistan continued to support warring factions within Afghanistan, primarily Hezb-e Islami. When Hekmatyar's Hezb-e Islami failed to capture Kabul during the early 1990s and thereby failed to secure Pakistan's influence over Afghanistan, Islamabad shifted its support to the Taliban, a then-new movement of religious students (talibs)who were gaining strength in the south of the country. The Taliban went on to take over most of Afghanistan by the late 1990s.
Throughout the 1990s Pakistan's support for the Taliban included providing diplomatic support as the Taliban's virtual emissaries abroad, financing Taliban military operations, recruiting skilled and unskilled manpower to fight with the Taliban, planning and directing offensives, obtaining ammunition and fuel for Taliban operations, and on several occasions providing direct combat support.
Driven from power in December 2001 by the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, the Taliban fled to the remote, mountainous, tribal area of Pakistan. The tribal area, officially known as Federal Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), stretches 500 miles along the Afghan border and is divided into seven districts, or "agencies," from Bajaur in the north to North and South Waziristan in the south.
After being pushed from their bases inside Afghanistan, the Taliban and other groups, like Hezb-e Islami and al Qaeda, have used the tribal areas to regroup and rearm. Intelligence agencies put the number of non-Pakistani fighters in the tribal areas as high 2,000, including Afghan Taliban commanders, Arabs linked to al Qaeda, and fighters from Central Asia and the Caucuses who support the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Analysts suggest that there may be as many as 32 different militant groups operating just in North and South Waziristan.
Since the Taliban were overthrown in 2001, Afghan officials, as well as NATO officials and even the UN Secretary General, have accused Islamabad of failing to crack down on Taliban operating from Pakistani territory; some officials have even alleged direct Pakistani support for the Taliban. Tribal chiefs in FATA have also alleged that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan's intelligence agency, helped the Taliban plan a new offensive in 2007, aimed at NATO and Afghan forces in southern Afghanistan, and that the ISI has allowed Taliban forces to move large quantities of weapons and ammunition to the Afghan border.
Whether insurgents receive assistance from Pakistani authorities or not, there is little doubt that Taliban and other insurgent groups, including al Qaeda sympathizers, have found safe havens in Pakistan: Pakistani government officials publicly admit this (see below).
In September 2006, the UN secretary-general reported that the Taliban leadership "relies heavily on cross-border fighters, many of whom are Afghans drawn from nearby refugee camps and radical seminaries in Pakistan." Besides being reported in the Pashtun-majority districts bordering on south-eastern Afghanistan, there are also numerous reports of insurgent presence in Baluchistan province, which borders Afghanistan's Kandahar province. On September 21, 2006, in a US Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, General James Jones, the former NATO Supreme Allied Military Commander who oversaw US and NATO operations in Afghanistan, testified that it was "generally accepted" that the Taliban leadership was based in and operating out of Quetta-an assessment shared by analysts inside and outside of Afghanistan. British government officials have made similar comments. From close allies of Pakistan, these are serious allegations.
The Pakistan government has been sensitive about criticisms relating to insurgent activities. In a notable episode, TheNew York Times published a story in January 2007 detailing reports of Pakistani government support to the Taliban and other insurgents. While reporting the story, journalist Carlotta Gall was harassed by ISI agents in Quetta, who detained her photographer and later forced themselves into her hotel room, punched her, and confiscated her notes, camera, and computer.
President Musharraf and other Pakistani officials have repeatedly denied that the ISI is assisting the Taliban. In response to a leaked UK Ministry of Defense document that suggested Pakistan's intelligence agency was supporting the Taliban, President Musharraf said: "I totally, 200 percent, reject it. . . . ISI is a disciplined force, breaking the back of al Qaeda." Yet Musharraf has also stated that "there are al Qaeda and Taliban in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Clearly they are crossing from the Pakistan side and causing bomb blasts in Afghanistan." And in February 2007, Musharraf made a partial admission that Pakistani government personnel might be complicit in allowing insurgents sanctuary in Pakistan. Referring to allegations about Pakistani border guards' failure to arrest insurgents, a topic raised at a press conference in Rawalpindi in February 2007, Musharraf said "We had some incidents I know of that in some [border] posts, a blind eye was being turned. So similarly I imagine that others may be doing the same."
Further evidence that insurgents have been active in Pakistan was provided when Pakistani authorities reportedly arrested a senior Taliban military commander in Quetta in late February 2007, around the time of a visit to Pakistan by US Vice-President Dick Cheney.
Events in North and South Waziristan
In June 2002, a Pakistani army division moved into Khyber and Kurram Agencies to apprehend fleeing al Qaeda members crossing into Pakistan as a result of coalition operations on the Afghan side of the border. However, the deployment had little effect on insurgent movements or rate of attacks on coalition troops in Afghanistan. In 2003, under pressure from Washington, Islamabad began deploying 80,000 troops to both North and South Waziristan Agencies in what turned out to be a botched military operation. With increasing civilian deaths from heavy-handed tactics, and military casualties from insurgents and pro-Taliban militants in the Waziristans, Islamabad was forced to change tactics.
In April 2004 in South Waziristan and September 2006 in North Waziristan-two of the seven FATA agencies-the Musharraf government reached "peace" agreements with pro-Taliban militants.
Under the agreements, Pakistan pledged to take a much lower profile in both Waziristan areas and withdraw its military from the region. In return, the pro-Taliban signatories pledged not to support, train, and provide sanctuary to the Taliban and al Qaeda-linked fighters, and agreed not to establish new government offices.
Since the North Waziristan deal was struck, pro-Taliban militants in Miramshah, the agency's seat, have reportedly established criminal courts, levied "taxes" on local businesses, prevented women from leaving their homes, and closed girls' schools and offices of civil society organizations and NGOs, all of which violate their agreement with Islamabad.
Many tribal chiefs, clerics, and political actors from tribal areas have denounced the agreements and have demanded an end to support of the Taliban by elements within President Musharraf's government. Local Pashtun politicians say that since that deals were struck between Islamabad and pro-Taliban forces, many tribal leaders who were against the agreements have been killed. Bomb attacks and other violence have also increased in tribal areas and border cities like Peshawar.
Since the agreements were signed, it has become clear that the Taliban and other insurgent groups view the agreements with Islamabad as little more than cover to regroup, reorganize, and rearm. Moreover, attacks against Afghan, US, and NATO forces have increased in eastern Afghanistan since the signing of the accords, especially in Afghan areas bordering North Waziristan. A US military official told the Associated Press that there was a three-fold increase in attacks on US troops in eastern Afghanistan in the month following the agreement between the Pakistan government and pro-Taliban tribesman in North Waziristan. Since late 2006, Afghan and Pakistani officials have said that suicide attackers are being trained in Waziristan and other agencies for missions in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In a media interview, a diplomat in Kabul identified two Pakistani Taliban leaders as trainers of suicide bombers in Waziristan who were sending bombers into Afghanistan.
Hundreds of civilians have been killed or injured in insurgent attacks in Afghanistan over the last five years. This section provides accounts of attacks targeting civilians, as well as indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks and other attacks carried out with little or no regard for the consequences for civilians. The accounts are taken from witnesses, survivors, and the relatives of victims.
Attacks Targeting Civilians
Southern and Southeastern Afghanistan
The most deadly attacks targeting civilians by insurgent groups have occurred in Afghanistan's south and southeast. Because of the poor security conditions in many of the areas in which attacks have occurred, it is difficult to obtain first-hand testimony about many attacks. Human Rights Watch nonetheless has been able to speak with witnesses in some cases, and collect accounts from security reports by the United Nations and the Afghanistan NGO Security Office (ANSO), a security consulting organization for non-governmental organizations, and from media reports.
On January 17, 2006 in Spin Boldak, a border town in Kandahar province, a bomb exploded in a crowd attending a wrestling match, killing at least 20 civilians.
Haji Agha, a car dealer with a house near the site of the attack, told Human Rights Watch about the attack:
There was a wrestling match during the Eid festival. There were around 2000 people gathered there to watch these [wrestling] matches. I was with two other friends and we were enjoying the festival.
It was about when the matches finished and all the people were returning home. A lot of people left but we were delayed for some time because of the crowd. We were in the car and about to leave when there was a bang and yellow flames and smoke. We were about 50 to 60 meters away [from the blast]. There were many cars in front of us. There was shrapnel from the bomb which made holes in the bodies of the car. There was smoke and dust all over and we could not see for a long time. The shrapnel made large holes in the bodies of the men. Some [men] were blown to pieces.
Our car shook from the blast. . . . We parked our car off to the side and did not approach the bomb scene as we were afraid there might be another blast following the first.
On the day of the attack a Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the bombing, but later rescinded his statement and said the Taliban was not involved. In addition to the initial claim of responsibility, the later Taliban denial is drawn into question by the fact that the attack took place in the heart of Spin Boldak, in the heart of the Afghan-Pakistani border area in which the Taliban regularly operate and transit. Some Afghans in the area suggested that the Taliban were responsible and were targeting government officials who were attending the wrestling match, but that they then denied responsibility for the attack because of the high number of civilian casualties.
Another major attack targeting civilians occurred in the southern province of Helmand around August 28, 2006. A bomb (by some reports a suicide bomber) detonated in the middle of the day in a crowded bazaar in Lashkar Gah, Helmand's capital. According to local officials, the bomb killed 15 people and wounded 47, including 15 children. Local officials told journalists that one of the wounded children was a two-year-old boy, who had a leg amputated.
Types of Attack
Methods of attack by insurgent groups can be roughly categorized as follows:
Remote bomb or "Improvised Explosive Device" (IED). An explosive device, buried in the ground or hidden in a cart, box, or basket, detonated remotely or with a timer.
Suicide bomber, on foot. A person carrying explosives, typically worn in a concealed vest, who detonates the explosives manually.
Vehicle Bomb or "Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device" (VBIED). An explosive device placed inside a vehicle, detonated manually by a suicide bomber in the vehicle, or, if the vehicle is parked and unoccupied, remotely or with a timer.
Assaults. Armed attacks, usually with small arms.
Arson attacks. Setting fire to government buildings, typically girls' schools, usually at night.
Abductions/Executions. The abductions of civilians, sometimes followed by execution, typically by gunshot, knifing, or beheading.
A shopkeeper named Razaq Khan, whose shop was damaged in the attack, told a journalist at the scene:
[It was] the biggest explosion I have seen in my life. I was shocked. When I opened my eyes, everywhere was smoke and dust. Many people and children were lying in pools of blood, killed and injured.
Qari Yousaf Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesperson, told the Associated Press that Taliban forces were responsible for the bombing, and that its target was a businessman and former police chief who had served in the government during the Soviet occupation of the 1980s. Ahmadi said the attack was not intended to cause civilian deaths, an groundless claim given that the targeted man-his past political affiliations aside-was a civilian. Ahmadi said: "We are very sad about the civilian casualties. We only wanted to kill this former police chief."
Numerous other bombings directed at civilians and civilian objects occurred through the south and southeast in 2006. (See Appendix A for a selection of other examples.)
However, bombings were not the only form of violence used to target civilians in the south and southeast. In 2006, anti-government groups in border regions also continued to carry out assassinations of clerics, teachers, and government officials and employees.
Human Rights Watch believes that at least 17 governmental officials were killed by insurgent forces in 2006-mostly governors, deputy governors, district administrators, provincial council members, and senior officials in government ministries. Almost all of these killings took place in the south or southeast of the country.
For example, on September 10, 2006 in Khost, in southeastern Afghanistan, a suicide bomber killed Abdul Hakim Taniwal, the 63-year old governor of Paktia, along with his nephew, driver, and a bodyguard.
On September 25, two gunmen on a motorcycle killed Safia Ama Jan, a woman in her mid-60s and the Kandahar director for Afghanistan's Ministry of Women's Affairs.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for both incidents.
There were also several cases in 2006 in which school teachers, officials, and students were attacked by alleged insurgents. In an incident in early December 2006, gunmen scaled the wall of a residential compound in a village in the southeastern province of Kunar, entered the house, and shot and killed two sisters who worked as local schoolteachers, as well as their mother, grandmother, and a 20-year-old male relative. According toGulam Ullah Wekar, a provincial education official, the two teachers had recently received a written warning from the Taliban to stop teaching or "end up facing the penalty."
Western and Northern Afghanistan
In 2006, anti-government forces extended their reach beyond south and southeastern Afghanistan, carrying out attacks throughout the country. Attacks were even launched in and around the western city of Herat and the northern city of Mazer-e Sharif, largely Dari-speaking areas in which most anti-government forces-who are predominately ethnic Pashtun-have less local support.
On May 12, 2006, a United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) convoy transporting doctors from a clinic in Badghis province back to neighboring Herat was ambushed in Karokh district in Herat province, approximately 80 km from Herat city.
Combatants armed with rocket propelled grenade (RPG) launchers and AK-47 assault rifles launched an RPG at the lead vehicle in the convoy, a civilian vehicle clearly marked with a "UN" logo. Two people were killed in the attack: a UN staff-person and an engineer with a non-governmental humanitarian organization. The engineer was named Zamarey, and was a health specialist for Malteser International, a German aid organization working in Badghis province.
Naser Mohammadi, Zamarey's elder brother, spoke with several witnesses to the attack and with local security officials who investigated the scene. He told Human Rights Watch:
There were two UNICEF vehicles and four soldiers. The UNICEF vehicle came at the beginning, then the second UNICEF vehicle and then the soldiers. The Taliban fired at the vehicle first with a rocket propelled grenade. The RPG went into the mountain, not into the vehicle.
My brother survived the [first] RPG. He got out of the vehicle. . . . [But] when my brother was escaping the Taliban fired a second RPG. The RPG hit a rock next to my brother. The shrapnel hit my brother in the head and killed him.
Naser said he had been worried about Zamarey earlier in the day, after he received a call from Zamarey's fiance, who was wondering where he was. "She asked me if my brother was in Herat or not. I told her no, he was not here yet. . . . I tried to call my brother but he did not answer." Naser then called one of the UN workers traveling in the convoy. He then learned that his brother's convoy had been attacked, that two people in the convoy had been killed, and that an injured man had been brought to Herat city hospital. He rushed to the hospital.
I went to the hospital, but the injured person was not my brother. I knew he was dead then. So I immediately set off for the location of the attack on the border of Herat and Qala-e Naw.
When Naser got the scene, he learned that police had taken Zamarey's body to a local police station. Naser retrieved his brother's body and returned to Herat.
A CNN dispatch later reported that the one surviving UN worker had his leg amputated, because of the injuries he sustained in the attack.
Local security officials told Naser that his brother had been killed by Taliban forces. Naser, from his own discussions with police officials at the scene, also believed the Taliban was responsible.
A few weeks after the attack, two suspected Taliban fighters were arrested in Herat province in connection with the killings.
Zamarey and his fiance were to be married two weeks later. Naser said his family spent "thousands and thousands of dollars to prepare for the wedding ceremony."
The money we collected for his wedding party had to be spent for his funeral. Everything was ready for his wedding. We had everything prepared for him and his wife to start a new life. Everything was ready and they [the Taliban] just killed him.
You know, it is really hard. You're expecting your brother to come, and you want to have a party for him, and suddenly you are going and bringing home his dead body.
This was a young person the Taliban killed; he could have helped many, many people in Afghanistan. He was a malaria coordinator for a clinic in Badghis [he coordinated NGO anti-malaria campaign]. I can say with my whole heart that my brother cured 90 percent of the people in Qala-e Naw who had malaria. You can ask people from Qala-e Naw they will tell you the same. The Taliban did this. . . .
My brother knew the Koran. . . he was a real Muslim. . . . You could ask him anything from the Koran. . . he could tell you hundreds and thousands of verses about religious issues. . . .
Everything, it's just too much now. . . I don't know. . . . I can't see the world anymore, I don't know if this is a carpet or if this is a pillow, or what that is. . . . I don't know if I am drinking or if you are eating. It's just leaving and moving and coming. Everyone in my family is like this now because my brother was killed, just because my brother is dead.
He was innocent! He was innocent! Twenty-two years. Twenty-two years old, he was just starting his life. . . . Now he is dead.
On May 30, 2006, four aid workers with the humanitarian organization Action Aid, three women and one man, were killed on a road in Mingajig district in the northern province of Jowzjan, when two gunmen on a motorcycle fired on their vehicle in broad daylight.
One of the women killed, named Binafsha, was 17 years old. Binasha's mother Latifa told Human Rights Watch how on the day of Binafsha's death she received a telephone call from Binafsha's co-workers, telling her to come urgently to the Action Aid office:
They told me I had to come to the main office that we needed to have an urgent meeting. . . . One of her colleagues said that my daughter's car had been attacked in Mingajig district by insurgents.
I was terrified when I heard. . . . I don't know happened next because I fainted. When they told me my daughter had been killed, I fainted.
When I woke up, I saw all of my relatives at my house. They were crying, and they were gathered here outside in the yard. The only thing that I thought about was Binafsha.
The family went to a local hospital to retrieve Binafsha's body and prepare it for her funeral.
I went to the hospital to see my daughter. [But] I did not get to see my daughter's body until the following day because she had been bleeding very badly. [The family did not allow Latifa to see her body until it had been washed.]
A doctor told Latifa that Binafsha's colleagues were killed instantly, but that Binafsha had likely survived for over an hour after the attack.
Nobody went there to help for five hours because they supposed that there could have been another ambush. . . . Maybe somebody could have helped her; brought her back here [to Shiberghan] to save her life. But it was impossible for the people to go there, because their life was at risk too. People believed that if they went there they would be attacked like my daughter was. I understand that it is a difficult decision for someone to have to make but I really would have appreciated anybody who could have saved my daughter's life.
Before her death, Binafsha was working to support her family and studying to become a doctor. According to her mother Latifa:
She used to say "I just want my father to own a house.". . . She really wanted to help out our family because we are not well off. She used to always tell her father that "since you didn't have a son, I am your son. I'll work with my mom; I am here to support our family."
She was one of the most intelligent students in her class. She was first or second in her class and used to pray five times a day; she could cite the Koran. She used to always tell us she wanted to be a doctor. She was studying hard because she wanted to go to medical college and become a doctor. She wanted to help her countrymen; she wanted to be a qualified doctor.
Latifa went on to say that Binafsha was more than a daughter to her, "She was not just my daughter, but my teacher."
She used to teach my husband and me every day and every night. She used to give us news updates. . . . Our relation wasn't only mother-daughter, but more like student and teacher. . . . With her gone now, my life has changed a lot; I am like a skeleton now.
One of the other women killed in the attack was named Bibi Sadaat. Her husband, Mohammad Hashim, was in Kabul, on work-related travel, when she died. He told Human Rights Watch how he learned of his wife's death:
I received a phone call from my son the night my wife was killed. He told me that something bad had happened, but he did not tell me what. He told me to come back to Shiberghan because something bad had happened. . . . So I went back at , because I was worried. I thought that maybe my son had gotten into fight, or had done something wrong, and he needed my help. When I arrived there were some 50 people or so standing at our door. I supposed that something had happened in my house, so I called my son over to me. My son told me that my wife had been martyred in an attack.
I was extremely upset. We were married for 30 years.
Mohammad said his wife's death took him entirely by surprise, that he never imagined that his wife would be killed in an attack. "She did not have any enemies." Mohammad said. "She worked for four years helping people and made many friends, a lot of people loved her. Even now people are still coming to express their condolences."
My wife's death has really affected the life of my family. We relied on her salary. We have to pay $50 [US] a month for this house. We are now facing a lot of difficulties. . . .
Mohammad told Human Rights Watch that his wife's death affected him deeply. "Over 30 years I have collected many memories of my wife," he said.
She was great mother and good woman. All of our relatives used to tell me that. Whenever she got her salary she used to give part of it to the poor. All of her co-workers are sad too. They said, alone she [Sadaat] could do the work of 200 people. She was literate and highly educated. . . . She was a good wife. It was like we were newly married everyday. She was my best friend.
I am lost now and the only thing I have found is depression. Whenever I enter a room that she had been in, I get depressed. . . . Because my wife is dead, I have not only had enough of this government-I have had enough of this world.
Although no group claimed responsibility for the killings, a Taliban spokesperson had telephoned BBC on May 29, 2006, the day before the attack, and warned of attacks in the north of the country. However, many northern residents whom Human Rights Watch interviewed believed that Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-e Islami forces were responsible for attacks in the area, and for the attack in Jowzjan.
On June 8, 2006, a week after the incident detailed above in which four Action Aid staffers were assassinated, three humanitarian aid workers working in Chimtal district, in the northern province of Balkh, were gunned down by unknown assailants while traveling around the district performing humanitarian assessments.
While on a remote road between villages, their vehicle was stopped by two armed-men on a motorcycle, and all three men were shot multiple times with an automatic weapon; two were killed and one was serious wounded. The two who were killed were an engineer, Mattiullah, and a driver, Abdul Qayoom.
Human Rights Watch interviewed the sole survivor of the shooting, Shafiq Ahmad. He was shot four times at close range in the left arm and leg. He told Human Rights Watch what happened:
It is our job to go the districts and hear what kinds of projects they want for their villages. . . . We left Mazar-e Sharif at 8 am that day, for Chimtal district. We had a female colleague with us too; we dropped her off in another district. All of us usually go to the districts to talk to people but after the event in Shiberghan where four people were assassinated [discussed above], our office told us to take extra precautions. Since the attack in Shiberghan we felt more at risk, so we dropped her [the female colleague] in another village.
Shafiq said that he, Mattiullah, and Abdul visited several districts in Chimtal before starting back to Mazar-e Sharif around .
When we reached Arab-e Mazari, on the way to Mazar-e Sharif, a motorbike appeared, then a second one. There was one person on the first motorbike and two on the second. They both passed us on the passenger side of our car, the side where Matiullah was sitting.
The men on the motorbikes looked very anxious and worried. We thought they were concerned because of the dust in the air from our car. They were driving really fast and did not let us pass. It was like a race.
Shafiq said that "It seemed as if the bikes were signaling to each other." Shafiq told Human Rights Watch that a man on the first motorcycle seemed to be signaling to the second in some manner than suggested "this is the car, now you can attack."
The motorbikes came very close to each other and then first one disappeared and the second kept going in front of us.
I was really suspicious of those men because they kept touching their side of their bodies like they were carrying guns. They were wearing shawls on their shoulders. I told Qayoom to be careful because the men looked suspicious. They just did not look good to me.
After the first bike disappeared, the second one with two men pulled to the side of the road and one man pulled out a gun and started shooting. We stopped the car about 15 meters from the man [who was shooting]. When we saw the gun we had no choice but to stop the car on the left hand side of the road.
Shafiq said he did not know whether the first shots hit anyone. He was in the back seat. "I was scared so I ducked down behind the front seats to protect myself."
Shafiq said the shooter got off the motorbike and continued to fire at the car. He walked around the left side of the car, the driver's side, and shot Abul Qayoom first, and then Mattiullah, who was in the front passenger seat, and that he himself was then hit in the leg and arm.
The gunman then fled on their motorcycles.
I heard Qayoom saying the Kalimah Shahidat [the martyr's prayer], but he died before he could finish it. I could hear that he was in pain. It was devastating. . . .
Matiullah was wounded, but died two hours later. According to Shafiq, Matiullah was to be married in three days in his home province of Wardak, near Kabul.
Abdul Qayoom, the driver, was the father of nine children in Mazar-e Sharif.
Abdul Qayoom's widow, Paykai, described to Human Rights Watch, how she and her family learned of Abdul's murder:
I was sitting here [in her house] when I found out that my husband had been killed. . . . I could not do anything when I found out he had been killed; all I could do was cry. He was everything for us; he was just everything.
Paykai told Human Rights Watch that Abdul Qayoom "was a very good father, neighbor, and husband." She said:
The only thing Abdul Qayoom wanted to do was to work to feed and bring up his children in the best way he could. This was the fifth year he was working with the NGO office. He was very proud of his job.
He was a very good man and father. He got along well with the neighbors, and used to pray five times a day. He was very good Muslim and used to encourage the children on the street to pray and study as well.
My husband was very kind to us. Since my husband was killed, my children cry for their father everyday. He was a good husband, he did not prevent me from doing things, and he did not criticize me. He did not criticize me for what I cooked or did not cook. He really was a good man. My memories of him are my life now.
Abdul's death also affected the future of my children tremendously. My goal is to send my children to school. But I want them to wear the same clothes as the other children do. I don't want other children to make fun of them for what they wear. I also don't want other children to ridicule them for not having a father. This has really affected our life.
Wahida is Abdul Qayoom's 14-year-old daughter. She told Human Rights Watch:
My father's death has affected all my brothers' and sisters' lives. . . .
We don't have enough money for books, bags and clothes to go school, so people laugh at us. Even the neighbors' children don't talk to my brothers and sisters anymore.
Wahida's oldest brother now works to support the family, but she says the money is not enough, and that the family does not know what to do.
"I never expected my father to leave us," she said.
Numerous other attacks on humanitarian and developmental workers took place in the west and north around the same time. For instance, on June 20, 2006, a Turkish worker for a road construction company and three Afghan colleagues were reportedly ambushed and killed in the western province of Farah.
KabulCity and Surrounding Areas
On March 12, 2006, two suicide bombers in Kabul carried out an attack apparently directed at former Afghan president Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, a senior official in the upper house of the Afghan parliament and the head of a reconciliation committee that seeks dialogue with Taliban leaders and reintegration of former combatants into civilian life. Mojaddidi was leaving his office when two men with suicide vests detonated their explosives near his vehicle, killing four pedestrians. Mojaddidi was slightly burned on his hands and face.
Human Rights Watch spoke with "Sharzad," a nine-year-old girl who was seriously wounded in the blast. Sharzad said that at the time of the attack she was walking home with her brother and sister from a visit to the Pir-e Boland shrine in Bagh-e Bala, situated on a crowded street near Mojaddidi's office. When the bomb went off, Sharzad was struck in the abdomen with a large piece of shrapnel. Sharzad told Human Rights Watch:
I went to the mosque that day to say prayers. I was worried that I may not be accepted to school [a school she had applied to], so I went to ask God to help me to get into the school. My younger brother and sister came with me too.
The explosion happened on our way home. It cut my stomach open and I thought I was going to die.
Sharzad's stomach was badly ripped open. The bomb did serious damage to her abdomen, intestines, and kidneys; her mother showed Human Rights Watch the massive and gruesome scars left on Sharzad's stomach. Doctors had to remove 156 cm of her intestines after the attack.
I tried to walk after the explosion knocked me down, but when I got up, I fell down again. I think I fell because I tripped on my intestines.
Sharzad said "the first explosion did not do anything to me." It was the second:
I remember the explosion throwing me a few meters. . . . I did not feel getting hit by the bomb. The bomb threw me down but then I stood up and ran away, but then I fell down again and don't remember what happened after that.
"Faronuz," Sharzad's mother, recounted to Human Rights Watch her fear and confusion when she learned of the attack:
The very first thing that came to my mind when I heard that there was an explosion was that my youngest daughter, who was with Sharzad at the time, had been killed. That daughter is very small and weak. I knew that an explosion like that would kill her instantly if she was close by.
Faronuz rushed out of her home and found a taxi to take her to the hospital.
When I got into the taxi I wanted to scream, but I couldn't in front of the taxi driver. My heart was about to burst, I could not wait to get to the hospital to see my child.
I thought my child had been killed, I just assumed that she was dead.
Faronuz said that she arrived at the hospital around 11am but did not manage to see Sharzad until 3 pm.
The first moment I saw my daughter, she was white like a sheet. I did not recognize her. When I touched her body it was cold like ice. I thought then that she would not come back to us.
There have been a lot of strong men killed with one bullet. Sharzad was hit with a large piece of metal. I thought that she would not come back.
But Sharzad was lucky and recovered, although she was hospitalized for several weeks afterwards. Given the major damage to her torso and internal organs, the doctors told Sharzad's parents that her recovery was "a miracle," and that she easily could have died that day.
Nearly ten months after the attack, Sharzad still has pain in her arms and legs.
For Sharzad's mother Faronuz, the attack revived painful memories of Afghanistan's past conflicts, including civil conflicts in the early 1990's. Faronuz told Human Rights Watch:
During the wars, many of my family members were killed. I just assume [these days] that my family will be killed in fighting. An attack like this only reminds me of those terrible feelings I had [in the past]. . . . I am not normal now; I can't take things like this.
Faronuz said Sharzad is still affected by the attack:
She [Sharzad] still has bad memories from that day. Once we took Sharzad to a shop near the site of the explosion, and she started shivering. We asked her what was wrong and she said: "Dad! Take me away from here now!" We immediately put her in taxi and took her home.
Sharzad told Human Rights Watch that she still has nightmares from that suicide attack:
Sometimes I dream about that day-I have nightmares. I thought that I would not survive.
I started saying the Kalimah [the martyrs' prayer] when I was hurt that day, because I thought I was going to die, but my brother told me to stop [i.e., because he didn't want her to think she would die]. I said no [and kept praying] because I did not want to die haram.
On July 5, 2006, three bombs targeting government employees and offices exploded in Kabul during the morning rush hour, killing several people and wounding over 50. Two bombs targeted buses carrying workers to the Commerce and Interior Ministries, and a third detonated in a vendor's cart near the Justice Ministry.
Human Rights Watch spoke with Ghulam Haider, an employee of the Commerce Ministry and a survivor of the attack on the ministry bus.
He detailed to Human Rights Watch how he experienced the attack:
It was Wednesday, July 5th, at about five minutes to . I was going to work. I picked up the bus a little bit past the stop, because the road was blocked. When I got on the bus began moving again.
We came to a speed bump, and our bus slowed down, and when it did there was a sound of a huge explosion and fire surrounded the bus. I didn't understand what had happened.
The explosion was very bright and made a nasty sound. Inside the bus was like hell. The bus was engulfed in flames. I could see that the fire was coming from the floor of the bus. The first thing I realized was that I was very badly burnt. I ran to the emergency door at the back and I tried to get out of the bus.
The man sitting next me died on the spot, I couldn't move him. I was bleeding very badly but I managed to get out of the bus. I shouted at the police and people to come and help me but everyone was scared and were screaming and running away from me. A few minutes later some army guys came and they put us in their trucks. They opened up the door of the truck and put in two women who had been injured in the bus. We were taken to EmergencyHospital.
While we were driving to the hospital one guy died on the way.
I was examined by the doctors. There was a big bomb fragment in my back. They operated on me and discharged me the next day.
Ghulam had a scar on his back from the fragment and had to receive continuing medical treatment for the scarring on his legs, arms, and head.
Later the same day, a second bomb exploded at a busy intersection near the Justice Ministry, killing two civilians and injuring another twelve. The intended target of the bombing was unclear.
Mohammad Rasoul, whose taxi was damaged in the explosion, told the Associated Press that he was inside his car when the blast went off about twenty feet away. Rasoul said: "The glass windows were blown in toward me. When I turned my head, I saw one man with both legs cut off and he was screaming."
Mohammad Yusef Aresh, one of the injured at the scene, described the attack to Human Rights Watch: "The street after the bomb exploded was like Afghanistan 23 years ago [i.e., during the war against the Soviet occupation]. People were running and screaming because of the bombs."
Moments before the attack, Aresh said he was walking by the by the Ministry of Justice and saw a man pushing a vegetable cart about 20-25 steps in front of him. Aresh believes the bomb was in the cart, although it is not clear whether the man pushing the cart was even aware of this.
I thought there was something wrong with this man pushing a cart in this area. You know, this area is a really crowded area with heavy traffic and at lunchtime there is even more traffic. That road was a major road and it was busy. Carts are usually not on that road.
The road and bazaar was so crowded. I passed the cart and few seconds later the bomb exploded. It was like an earthquake. It blew me back about three or four meters.
When Aresh regained consciousness he realized that he was lying in the middle of the street and bleeding profusely out his side: "While lying [in the street] I thought I was going do die, 100 percent, but I trusted in God. If someone had not helped then, I would have died. I was bleeding very badly."
I think I was unconscious for five minutes on the road. I woke up and saw people and body parts everywhere; fingers, hands, feet, toes, almost everything.
The windows of the Ministry of Justice were shattered. People were screaming and others were screaming that another bomb would explode but it never came. I started to check my body to see if I was injured. . . . I was wearing a white suit that day and I saw that my suit was red. I was hit by a four-inch piece of shrapnel in my hip.
Aresh recalled that immediately before the explosion he had seen one of the women killed in the bombing:
I was walking next to a woman who was killed by the bomb. We were walking very close to each other because the street was very crowded. When I woke after the explosion I saw her laying on the street ahead of me and I asked the people to see if she was dead or alive. Somebody told me she had been martyred.
He also recalled thinking about his mother and family while he was lying in the street.
"I wanted to call my mother and family to tell them what happened to me, but I lost my phone in the attack. I wanted to call somebody but I couldn't. I remember losing hope."
Aresh detailed to Human Rights Watch how his injuries from the attack have affected his present-day life and health:
I can't walk fast now. You know, I was a boxer. I can't box anymore. I lost a lot of speed and power with my boxing after the attack. Also the attack has affected my memory and my mental health. I am depressed everyday. My leg hurts everyday and I have a hard time walking.
There have been many changes in my life since the attack. I will tell you three changes: One, my memory has gotten worse. I hate that I can't remember. Two, I am depressed. And three, it [the explosion] has affected my eyesight. It's hard for me to read. When I think about these things it brings tears to my eyes. When I think about these and put them all together it makes me want to leave this country.
Indiscriminate or Disproportionate Attacks on Military Targets
In addition to attacks that target civilians, insurgent forces have also launched numerous attacks aimed at military targets that appear to have been carried out with little or no regard to the consequences for civilians. While limited information often makes it difficult to determine conclusively that a particular attack violated the laws of war, insurgents appear to have repeatedly used methods or means of attack that did not distinguish between civilians and combatants (indiscriminate attacks) or knowingly conducted attacks in which the loss of civilian life and property exceeded the expected military gain (disproportionate attacks).
Southern and Southeastern Afghanistan
On August 3, 2006, a suicide attacker detonated a car bomb in a crowded market in Panjwai Markaz, a town about 25 km west of Kandahar city. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed at least 21 civilians, including children, and wounded dozens more. From the circumstances of the attack, it appeared the intended target of the attack was a Canadian ISAF patrol, roughly 200-400 meters from the blast. The patrol was unharmed. (The same day, another ISAF patrol was ambushed elsewhere in the same district, and four Canadian soldiers were killed.)
An Associated Press correspondent who visited the scene of the bombing attack reported: "At least fourteen shops were burnt by the blast that left a crater 1.5 meters across and 50 centimeters deep." The report also said that wreckage from the car bomb was flung 100 meters from the blast site and that human body parts and debris littered the road.
Human Rights Watch spoke with "Abdullah," a motorcycle repairman and an owner of one of the shops destroyed in the blast. His brother, son, and nephew were all killed in the attack, as was one of his employees. Abdullah said that, at the time of the attack, he was inside his shop with his son Idris, his nephew Kawun, and his assistant Naseem. It was a very hot day, just after lunch, and he and his assistant, Naseem, were sleeping while his son kept watch for customers.
"I was awakened by the sound of the blast. I jumped with fear," he said.
I was not sure what had happened, I thought there was fighting between the Taliban and the coalition forces whose tanks and vehicles were standing not far from my shop. My shop caught on fire, the roof had collapsed and part of it was blown off from the blast. . . .
I could not see anything. My shop was filled with smoke and it was very difficult to see and breathe. I ran towards the door but saw that my nephew, assistant, and my son were lying on the floor.
I didn't know that they were injured and I was angry with them for not leaving the shop. I yelled to them to get up and get out of the shop, but then I realized that they were all injured. . . . My son was unconscious and so was my assistant. . . . I took them out of the shop one by one. . . .
Then I ran towards my brother's shop, which was opposite to my shop. I saw that he and his assistant were lying dead in front of the shop.
Abdullah told Human Rights Watch he was slightly wounded but his son, nephew, and assistant all sustained severe injuries.
My son was hit by pieces of shrapnel, the car metal that flew into the shop with full force. He received injuries to his head, chest, legs and stomach. All the flesh from his cheeks was gone; all of his teeth were visible.
My assistant received injuries to his chest, stomach and legs. My nephew's arms and legs were shredded by the metal pieces from the car. Somehow I was safe and received almost no injuries except for some cuts on my hands and feet.
Abdullah's nephew soon died. His son, Idris, lived for a few days after the attack but then eventually succumbed to his injuries as well. Abdullah told Human Rights Watch about how the deaths affected the family:
When I brought his body to my home his mother fell unconscious. In my house we were mourning the death of my brother and nephew and we thought that my son would survive, but it was not our fate. . . .
I have lost my shop; my brother lost his life and his shop. He got married just last year and now his infant son is an orphan and his wife who is very young is now a widow. . . . I lost my son, brother, and nephew because of the Taliban. They say that they are fighting for God and Islam but they are not; they are killing good and innocent Muslims and Afghans who have done nothing wrong.
Abdul, an 11-year old, was also injured. He was working as an assistant in one of the other motorcycle repair shops near the site of the attack. Human Rights Watch interviewed him in a Kandahar city hospital, one month after the attack. He was lying in traction, having sustained severe injuries to his hands, leg, and his left eye. He described the attack:
On the day of the explosion, my boss, the owner of the shop, was sleeping in the shop [it was just after lunch] and I was sitting outside the shop. It was afternoon, I don't know what time, but it was very hot in the shop and I did not want to sleep so I came out and sat outside the shop. I saw these [ISAF] tanks and soldiers who were standing at the other end of the market, I wanted to go near them but was afraid they would scold me and send me away, so I stayed there sitting in front of the shop, in the shade of the cloth we had in front of the shop, when all of a sudden I felt something hit me. . . . I don't remember any car bomb or blast sound; nothing. . . . I don't remember what happened, but when I opened my eyes I was lying in this bed in this hospital.
Human Rights Watch also spoke with another shop-owner, Arbab, who like Abdullah owned a motorcycle repair shop at the site of the attack, which was also destroyed. Lal Mohammad said business was slow on the day of the attack and he and his son closed the shop around and went home for lunch. He was at home when the attack occurred:
At about 3 pm there was a big bang I thought there was some fighting between the army and the Taliban or it was a bomb dropped by a US plane. I asked my son to go up to the roof to see. He went up, and said there was smoke coming from the market. . . . A few minutes later my cousin Hafeez called me. . . . He said there was a car bomb, a suicide attack, just in front of my shop and my shop together with the other shops were on fire and were completely destroyed. He said that there were a lot of injured and dead.
Arbab then went to the market with his cousin:
As I approached the scene my heart felt as if it was sinking and my legs didn't have any power. There was smoke and fire all around, the shops were on fire some of the shops were totally demolished and others had their windows, doors, and roofs blown away. There was this black smoke which made it hard to breathe and go near some of the shops. There were injured men and children crying, screaming, others trying to help those who were trapped in their shops.
The most terrifying thing I saw was in one of the shops, which belonged to a man by the name of Hezbollah who was a welder and owned a welding shop.
Hezbollah was severely injured and was screaming for help. Nobody could get near his shop because it was on fire. We could see him lying on the floor with stretched arms and screaming for help but no one dared to go near as there were these gas tanks in his shop which he used when he was welding. He was burnt alive. Sometimes I see him lying on the floor and screaming for help, in my dreams.
Arbab knew many of the families who lost relatives in the blast.
Many of my friends lost their relatives and their main source of income which was their shop. . . . That night was very distressing because we [my family] could hear the women and children who lost their family members crying and mourning throughout the night.
A Taliban commander claimed responsibility for the two attacks in Panjwai: "We carried out all the attacks," said Mullah Amnullah, a Taliban commander who spoke by telephone with a reporter a day after the attack.
We destroyed two big vehicles and killed a lot of Canadians. . . .
We also carried out the suicide attack in the market. . . .
We keep asking Muslims to stay away from NATO and Canadian convoys as we have martyrs chasing them. We feel bad about today's civilian deaths, but the people haven't been taking our warnings seriously.
Local residents told Human Rights Watch they were angry that the Taliban would choose to carry out an attack in the middle of a crowded civilian area.
Arbab noted that the ISAF patrol near the market was unharmed in the attack, and questioned why the Taliban carried out the attack in the manner they had:
That day, the Taliban-why didn't they hit the army? Who are they fighting? Why did they [the bombers] stop in front of the shops when they could have hit the convoy, as it was not more then 400 or 500 meters away? They didn't hit them but blasted right in front of the shops, killing innocent Afghans, Muslims, even kids.
Numerous other bombings and attacks like the one above occurred in southern and southeastern Afghanistan in 2006.
Late in 2006, insurgents launched another rash of suicide attacks on military targets moving around Kandahar: nine suicide attacks occurred in and around Kandahar during a two-week period in late November and early December. The attacks mostly appeared to be meant for passing NATO patrols. The Taliban claimed responsibility in five of the nine attacks. In all nine cases the attacks were carried out within or close to crowded civilian areas. One of these attacks "failed" and killed only the attacker, but seven of the eight remaining attacks caused civilian casualties, and all seven killed more civilians than combatants.
A December 8 bombing, seemingly directed at a NATO convoy in the Chawk Madat neighborhood of Kandahar, caused ten civilian casualties. A hospital official at Mirwais hospital, Dr. Najibullah, told journalists: "We've got two dead bodies and seven injured in our hospital. They're all civilians."
Western and Northern Afghanistan
On April 8, 2006, a Taliban suicide bomber unsuccessfully attempted to drive an explosive-laden cart into the main gate of the Italian-led ISAF Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) compound in Herat. The gate lies on a civilian street on which there was regular foot and vehicle traffic. The attack caused severe damage to the surrounding buildings but only lightly affected the PRT. The attack killed an Afghan guard on duty at the time and three civilians, and injured seven others. The attack highlights apparent disregard for the security of civilians, both by the Taliban insurgents who carried out the bombing and by the ISAF forces that placed a military compound inside a populated area of the city.
One of the civilians killed in the attack on the PRT was Jalaluddin, a local vegetable seller and a father of four. "He left in the morning with his cart. At about 9 am he was on the street when the bomb exploded and he was killed," his widow Leila told Human Rights Watch. "His children did not sleep for a week after that."
Leila told Human Rights that she heard about the attack that killed her husband on the local televised news.
That day we heard on the TV that there was an explosion near the PRT. They announced where it was and how many people were killed. Herat TV said that a person pushing a cart near the PRT was killed. When we heard that we went to the hospital.
The hospital told us that my husband had been injured and to come back in the morning. Someone else told me the man who was killed was not my husband but the next day another person came to our house and told us that the man who was killed was my husband.
They told me to prepare some water to wash my husband's body. We buried him that day.
The doctors did not know the night before if the dead man was my husband because his head was not with his body. He was also very badly burned.
Qari Yusuf Ahamdi, the Taliban spokesman, claimed responsibility for the attack on the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT). Ahmadi told Agence France-Presse that the attack "was a suicide attack carried out by a citizen from Herat named Abdul Rahim."
Human Rights Watch also collected information about a bombing that occurred in Herat in 2004: On July 11, 2004, at around 10:30 am in the morning, a man left a bomb near a police station in the city's main bazaar. The bomb blast killed several civilians. No military infrastructure was damaged in the blast. Police stations are not normally valid military targets.
Human Rights Watch spoke with Mir Ahmad, who witnessed the attack, and lost his 17-year-old son, Amanullah. Mir Ahmad said that he and another of his sons owned adjacent hardware shops about five meters from the police station, and that he saw the man place the bomb, attached to a bicycle, outside his son's shop.
Amanullah was minding his elder brother's shop (the other shop). His school was out that day. At around a man riding a bicycle with a large package attached to the back of the bike appeared in front of our shops. Actually he was right in front of my son's shop. I saw the man, he seemed out of place and nervous. The man parked the bicycle with the package in front of Amanullah's elder brother's shop, next to electric pole, which is only about three meters from that police station; an arm's length from our shops. The police station was the target.
The man parked the bike and walked away in a hurry, which raised my suspicion. A few moments later the bomb exploded killing many civilians and causing minor injuries to only one police officer.
Mir Ahmad was working in his shop at the time, sorting nails.
The bomb exploded sent nails flying everywhere like bullets. I shouted for my son. I remember it was dark when the bomb exploded. There was a lot of smoke. When I could see, I saw my son lying out in front of the shop. He was torn apart from the shrapnel from the bomb.
According to Mir Ahmad, Amanullah was in sixth grade when he was killed. Mir Ahmad said he was well-respected among his family and peers:
One day there was a ceremony in his school where the school gives awards to the best students. His teachers and his classmates gave him many awards not just for being a good student but for being a good person, and good Muslim. I was very proud of my son. . . . Whenever we go to the cemetery, we see a lot of people at his grave. Our whole family respected him. His mother is still crying for him.
Amanullah's death has severely affected Mir Ahmad's family. Mir Ahmad told Human Rights Watch that Amanullah's elder brother, who owned the shop at which Amanullah was working the day he was killed, "will never open his shop again. He has not been to his shop since then."
My family and I can't go on as usual without my son since he was killed. At least we have memories of him. My family, they can't go out anymore. They won't go to wedding parties now. They are too sad because when they see happiness it reminds them of Ammanullah. He was a happy boy. They just remember him and cry. The rest of my children can't live as normal now.
"Panic" was how Lal Mohammad, a survivor of an IED attack in Mazar-e Sharif, described the reaction of victims immediately after a powerful bomb exploded in city's crowded main bazaar on July 13, 2006. The attack took place across the street from the city's Blue Mosque. According to a report about the incident by the Afghanistan NGO Security Office (ANSO), a monitoring and consultative body that monitors security incidents:
An IED detonated in Darwaza-e Balkh area of Mazar-e Sharif, approximately 500 meters west of the Blue Mosque when an ISAF convoy was passing. Subsequently, 3 people and 1 child were injured. The bomb was placed on a bicycle in front of a row of shops in a heavily populated area.
Sher Jan Durrani, a city police official, told Pajhwok News Agency that one man died in the attack. The ISAF convoy was unharmed. Lal Mohammad said:
People were running and screaming. A lot of shop windows were broken. I was wearing white clothes, they turned red, and they soaked with blood. When I got to the hospital and I saw the other injured, I thought that the fighting [i.e. war] had started again in Afghanistan.
Lal Mohammad was struck in the back with a piece of shrapnel as he was loading a television into his car, parked near the bazaar.
My back was towards the explosion, I was facing away from the street towards the shops. I knew something had happened because people were running and screaming but I didn't feel getting hit by the bomb. First I did not understand what happened. Someone told me I was bleeding from my back. When I put hands on my back and brought them back in front of my face, I saw all the blood and started going into shock.
Habibullah, a survivor of the same attack, described the scene as something like what he had "watched on the TV or on the films." He said, "It was like I was dreaming. If I had taken two steps forward, I would have been killed, because the bomb that exploded was very close to me."
Habibullah was also injured and hospitalized.
I was in front of the explosion, so I saw the explosion, I saw smoke going into the sky. I was thrown onto the ground and went unconscious. When I got up, I didn't know I was injured. I didn't know what to do. I was bleeding from my head, arm, and leg. One person came to me and told me I was bleeding. I didn't know what was happening because I was in a panic.
At first I didn't know that I was injured. I had heard at university that when a person gets injured sometimes he doesn't know what is happening. I was really worried about severe injuries on my body. I just didn't know what was happening, where I was. . . .
Although no one claimed responsibility for the attack, victims like Habibullah think that the Taliban were responsible:
The fight with Taliban was only in the southern part of Afghanistan, but recently it has expanded to the north too. This attack shows that fighting is not just one or two parts of the country but has expanded to all of Afghanistan.
Lal Mohammad, Habibullah, and other witnesses to this attack told Human Rights Watch that fear of a second explosion was the cause of much of the panic that day.
I have heard that sometimes a small explosion will be followed by a big explosion. I have heard a lot about such things. For instance, there is an explosion, a small explosion and people gather to help the injured and then another bomb will go off there. There are examples from Kabul, Kandahar, and Helmand. I heard the same things have happened there. That situation made me and everyone else very scared.
KabulCity and surrounding areas
Around December 10, 2005, a civilian vehicle rigged with explosives detonated on Dar al-Amman Road in Kabul, as an ISAF convoy was passing by. Three civilians were wounded in the attack, and one other civilian was killed (the suicide bomber was also killed). The attack reportedly only slightly damaged the ISAF vehicle, and ISAF reported no casualties.
Roshan and Abdul Hadi were two brothers who shared a home with their families on the Dar al-Amman road in Kabul.
Both were victims of the attack-Abdul Hadi was killed. Human Rights Watch spoke with Roshan about the attack that day, and his brother's death.
At the time of the attack, Roshan said he and his brother were on their way to mosque to say Friday prayers.
We were walking down the street when we heard a horrible sound. I didn't know what happened. I only remember the sound and something pushing me towards the sky. Then I went unconscious.
When I woke up I found myself in the hospital. We were just a few moments away from where we were going.
When I regained consciousness people told me that there was an international military convoy which was coming from behind us. We were walking on the right side of the road, away from DarulamanPalace, and they [ISAF] must have been coming from the other direction towards the palace. The explosion took place somewhere in the pavement, not on the street.
Roshan's first thought was about the fate of his brothers:
When I became conscious I realized I was in a hospital. I raised my head and saw that my leg was injured and the first question I asked was "How's is my brother?" [As it turned out,] he and I were in the hospital together the entire time but I did not see him.
The hospital staff told me that my brother was injured very badly and that he was in the intensive care unit. I had three pieces of shrapnel in my back but my brother had a large piece of shrapnel in his head.
He died in the hospital ten days later. [Roshan never saw him.] The last time I saw my brother he was on the street.
Roshan sustained serious injuries to his arms and legs which badly impaired his ability to walk and sit comfortably. "My legs and hands were injured. When I move them it feels like I am being cut by a knife" he said.
I see a big change in my life; I can't move at times because it is too painful. It's been quite some time since my legs were injured in the explosion; they still have not healed properly.
I think my injuries have undermined our family life, economically and psychologically. Actually, psychologically, we are all depressed.
Human Rights Watch also collected information about some of the numerous IED and vehicle bomb attacks that have taken place on the road that leads out of Kabul city to the east, commonly referred to as Jalalabad Road. Since January 2006, the Taliban and other insurgent groups have claimed or are suspected to have carried out dozens of IED attacks on Jalalabad Road.
The attacks usually target NATO or Afghan military convoys that are traveling to or from the center of Kabul to NATO's "CampWarehouse," which lies on Jalalabad Road.
The road, however, is typically busy with civilian traffic, and although these attacks appear to target military convoys, they frequently incur needless loss of civilian life. Some accounts collected by Human Rights Watch illustrate the point:
On May 21, 2006, the Taliban carried out a suicide attack on a US military convoy traveling towards downtown Kabul on Jalalabad Road. Hanif Ahmadi, the Taliban spokesman, said the attack was carried out by a Taliban member named Sayed Mohammad Mujahid, and that the attack inflicted heavy casualties on US soldiers traveling in the convoy. However, witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch, as well as by ANSO, said that no US soldiers were harmed in the attack. ANSO and various media sources reported that two civilians were killed in the attack, in addition to the bomber, but witnesses told Human Rights Watch that six civilians were killed and seven others injured.
Human Rights Watch spoke with two witnesses: Najib and Habibullah. Habibullah's brother Saifoor was killed in the attack.
According to Najib and Habibullah, Saifoor and a shopowner named Sayeed Gul were sitting in front of Sayeed Gul's shop on the morning of the attack, eating watermelon. Habibullah described how the attack unfolded:
Usually I don't eat breakfast early in the morning; usually I go to Sayeed Gul's shop and talk with him [before breakfast]. That morning, I went to the shop and then came home for breakfast, but then my mother told me to go back out and buy some laundry detergent.
Habibullah described what he saw when he returned:
I went back to the shop and [when I got back] I saw a car near there on the other side of road. The man in the car stared at me. We saw each other; he had a long beard. I saw the driver talking to another man; he was a Kandahari. I could tell because he spoke with a Kandahari accent. They were speaking loud, almost yelling. They were talking about the stones in the road. [White stones put in the road, usually to block off a portion for maintenance.] One man was in the car and one man was standing outside pointing to the stones.
Habibullah said the car was parked on the opposite side of the road, in front of Najib's house and Sayeed Gul's shop. Habibullah saw the military convoy coming down the road.
When the Americans came, the car [with the bomber] started to move. . . . Then the car jumped into the air. It was like it was a stone in a slingshot. The car exploded. I think [the explosion] hit the last American car. [According to ANSO and media reports, the explosion occurred just after the convoy passed; no military personnel were harmed.] I could not see anything.
All I could think of then was the smell in my nose. It smelled like burning meat.
I saw the shop and it was on fire. There was fire where Saifoor was sitting [inside the shop]. I went to get him; I knew he had to be hurt. I rushed to him and Sayeed Gul [who was outside the shop].
Sayeed was ok. Sayeed Gul and I ran into to the shop even though it was on fire. . . . I was injured but I went inside the shop to get my brother. He was dead.
Najib, Saifoor's closest friend, told Human Rights Watch what he saw that day:
I was on the way there too but my friend stopped me on the road while on the way and asked me to borrow some money. So I returned home for a few minutes. . . . I heard the explosion and went running back.
I saw my friend Saifoor, I grabbed his hand but he was already gone.
Before the explosion, I saw the suicide bomber in his car talking to another man. He was parked on the right side of the road. He saw all the children on the street and he must have seen Saifoor and Sayeed Gul eating watermelon.
Sayeed Gul, who was with Saifoor during the attack, told Human Rights Watch "It was terrible day."
Saifoor was going to be a father in a few months [Saifoor was married in December 2005, six months before he was killed]. We were talking about that and how he was happy that he going back to work the next day to earn money to support his family. He had been sick and the doctor told him not to go to work for 10 days. The day he was killed was the tenth day, the next day he was going back to work. If that explosion happened one day later Saifoor would not have been here and his child would have a father.
Habibullah explained to Human Rights Watch how the attack affected his mother:
Our lives are different now that Saifoor is gone. Our family is different and it has affected us in very bad ways, particularly my mother. My mother, she is always thinking of him. I never remembered my mother being sick when I was boy. She was never unhealthy. Since Saifoor was killed, she is always sick. She cries a lot too. I am terrified that these people who took Saifoor from us will also take my mother too.
Saifoor's friend Najib described the affect of the attack on the neighborhood:
The shop was a good shop. It was more than a shop where we bought things. All the neighbors came here during the day. Some of us came in the morning, some of us came in the afternoon. But all of us came here during the day.
We all live here. There are many houses around here and we are like brothers and we take care of each other. [Now] the shops are destroyed and we have no money to rebuild them.
The tragedy here is not that the shops were destroyed but that we don't meet one another everyday now. We don't hear all the news and the stories about the families here.
I was thinking about this when I had to clean the shop. I had to take the body parts away that were in the shop. I had to take the hands and feet of Saifoor, my friend, away. That day was hell for me.
Habibullah told Human Rights Watch:
We are worried about this street now. We were [worried] before but not like now. When we see the foreigners come in the cars and military trucks we go inside or around the corner to get off the street. We are suspicious of every car that is parked here now because there are so many children on the street.
There are always a lot of civilians on this road. There are homes here. There are so many children on this road. There were so many innocent people on that road, working and talking during the day. Why would they blow themselves up here?
Two other attacks in Kabul in September 2006 killed numerous civilians:
On September 8, 2006, a suicide bomber detonated next to a US military convoy traveling through a crowded street in the Wazir Akbar Khan area of east Kabul; two US troops and 14 Afghan civilians died, including several women and children. Journalists who visited the scene right after the attack saw trees set on fire by the bombing, and body parts, hats, shoes, and clothing scattered across the street.
On September 30, 2006, a suicide bomber detonated near the Interior Ministry office in downtown Kabul, killing 12 civilians, including an eight-year-old boy, and injuring another 42. Tom Koenigs, the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative to Afghanistan, released a statement condemning the September 30 attack, saying he was "shocked and appalled":
It is particularly upsetting that so many lives have been lost in such a callous attack against innocent Afghans who were simply going to work. Afghanistan's people have suffered enough. It is wrong for any conflict to be played out in a civilian arena with such wanton disregard for so many innocent lives.
The attacks documented in this report have had wide-ranging social, political, and psychological consequences.
Many of the survivors, victims, and witnesses to the attacks detailed in this report told Human Rights Watch that insurgent attacks greatly affected their perceptions of the security situation in Afghanistan, the Taliban, the international community, and the Afghan government.
Habibullah, the brother of one of two civilians killed in a May 21, 2006 attack by Taliban forces on Jalalabab Road in Kabul (documented in the previous chapter of this report) told Human Rights Watch:
The bastards-they blew themselves up. They did not kill the foreigners. They only killed innocent people. It was like they tried to kill children.
Nobody from the government has come to offer condolences, to say they are sorry, or say they will try to stop these explosions.
But they [the Taliban] should stop this [i.e., attacks in civilians areas]. They killed the innocent; they killed the poor, and hurt the children. They just make us hate them. We felt like we were targeted, not the foreigners.
Roshan, another Afghan interviewed for this report whose case is described above, was the victim of an insurgent attack on an ISAF convoy in Kabul in late 2005. Roshan's elder brother was killed in the attack, and Roshan sustained serious injuries. Roshan told Human Rights Watch:
What the Taliban did is not Islamic; no one could ever justify their actions-these actions-in front of God. By their acts, the Taliban make children fatherless and poor families poorer.
They can't justify that, no one can.
When somebody dies, so do all his dreams. I want the people who commit these crimes to be punished. And I want to tell the people that did this, that what they did is unforgivable and God will punish them. If we poor people are their enemies, and this is how they kill, I would tell them they are cowards for not facing us. They're cowards, why don't they face us?
Almost everyone Human Rights Watch interviewed for this report articulated confusion about the motives and goals of the insurgent attacks. For instance:
Mohammad Yousef Aresh, a survivor of an attack documented above, asked:
What's my mistake? Why does the Taliban want to kill me? Is just because I shave my beard? I am a worker. I don't have any enemies. I don't know any of these Taliban, al Qaeda, etc. I don't know any of these people. I am not their enemy.
I didn't see any ISAF people that day near the ministry, I just saw my people; Afghan people. What was the target, the people? The Taliban, they were targeting everybody and nobody. I don't know what or who was the target that day. I don't know what their target is.
The Taliban only kill poor people. If they kill poor people did they hit their target? They are just trying to find money to eat and feed their families. If you kill the poor you will go to hell and never see paradise. Poor people, what problems do they cause?
Human Rights Watch also spoke with Ghulam Haidar, who was severely injured in a suicide attack on a civilian bus in Kabul in July 2005. Haidar told Human Rights Watch that attacks on civilians are "absolutely criminal."
It doesn't matter which side is right, the Taliban side or the side of the government, the police and army, and the coalition forces. We don't talk about that, we don't judge which one is right. But these are the two groups, and they shouldn't target people like us who are walking on the streets.
I strongly condemn these [attacks on civilians] because this is not something humane. I totally disagree with what they do now. This is not the way of the mujahidin. It can never be acceptable [killing civilians] and they [the Taliban] can never justify that, what they do. They can never justify what they did to us.
Mir Ahmad, who lost his son in a bombing in Herat, July 11, 2004, said:
The Taliban, they don't care about civilians on the street. Their aim was to get to the police but they did not. They did not care if they killed innocent people.
Leila, a woman from Kabul who lost her child in a suicide attack in March 2006:
The people who did this are murderers. They have to pay for the blood of their victims, the blood of the poor children that died. There was another child, a little girl that died that day. People told me her intestines were on the street. Who will answer for this?
In addition to the accounts above, Human Rights Watch reviewed additional information about insurgent attacks in which civilians have been killed or injured, from published and unpublished accounts and reports. The following section presents some of our findings.
Civilians in the Crosshairs
Insurgent forces launched a large number of attacks in 2006 in which civilians were killed or injured. Based on our own data, information collected from other reliable sources, including both domestic and international monitors, and a review of various accounts, Human Rights Watch found that in 2006 there were at least 350 cases in which insurgent attacks caused civilian deaths or injury. These attacks-including bombings, shootings, kidnapping and executions, and other violence-killed at least 669 Afghan civilians.
(These figures do not include the numerous civilians killed and injured during military engagements between insurgents and Afghan government, NATO, and coalition forces.)
The totals cited here are conservative. Numerous Afghan officials and civilians have suggested that many deaths and injuries go unreported, and that violence in remote rural areas often remains unknown. The real number of civilian victims during insurgent attacks is likely higher.
Most civilians who died in insurgent attacks were killed in bomb attacks, although large numbers of civilians were also targeted in shootings or were killed after having been abducted.
The following is a breakdown of the available data:
Bomb Attacks (Suicide Attacks and "Improvised Explosive Devices" or IEDS):
In 2006, there were at least 189 bomb attacks in which civilians were killed or injured (these include suicide, IED, and other types of bomb attacks).
The 189 bomb attacks killed 492 civilians and injured approximately 773, a total of over 1,000 casualties.
At least 118 of the attacks appear to have been directed at military targets, while another 57 appear to have been directed at civilians or civilian objects.(In 14 other cases, the target was unclear.)
The 118 bomb attacks that appeared to have been directed at military targets killed 268 civilians and injured approximately 534 more.
The 57 bomb attacks that appeared to have been directed at civilians or civilian objects killed 192 civilians, and injured approximately 215 more.
Shootings, Abductions, and Executions, and Other Non-bombing Attacks:
At least 177 other civilians were killed in targeted shootings, abductions/executions, or other types of non-bombing attacks.
Suicide bombings, which were once very rare in Afghanistan, occurred on a regular basis in 2006. Two suicide attacks were reported in 2003; six in 2004, and 21 in 2005. In 2006, however, at least 136 suicide attacks were reported in Afghanistan-a six-fold increase from 2005. (Note: this amount is a subset of the 189 bomb attacks noted above.) The US military has cited similar numbers, reporting 139 attacks in 2006, which appears to include attacks that were not publicly reported. US military commanders said they expected the number of suicide attacks to grow in 2007.
A total of 803 Afghan civilians were killed or injured in suicide attacks in 2006 (272 killed and 531 injured).The numbers of suicide attacks escalated in the second half of the year.
Suicide Attacks by Year
Sources: Data is based on recorded attacks compiled by Human Rights Watch in March 2007.
As discussed in the Legal Analysis section below, suicide attacks are not an unlawful method of combat. However, most suicide attacks in Afghanistan have violated the laws of war. Suicide bombers have typically attacked using perfidious means-that is, attackers have feigned protected civilian status to get close to targets. Suicide attacks have also frequently directed their attacks at civilians or civilian objects, or made no effort to minimize civilian casualties.
Taliban forces, which are believed responsible for the overwhelming majority of suicide attacks, have expressed little concern for the high civilian toll. Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah released a video in December 2006 lauding suicide attackers and claiming that they are particularly effective against foreign troops. Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi told Pajhwok Afghan News in December 2006 that attacks would continue in 2007, and that "Suicide attacks are part of our warfare approved by our supreme military council." Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has also spoken approvingly of the role of suicide attacks in insurgent activities.
Statistics on casualties from suicide attacks in the past year highlight their lethality to the civilian population. Over 80 percent of suicide attacks in 2006 (112 attacks) appear to have been directed at military convoys or installations, while 13 percent (18 attacks) appeared to have been directed at civilians or civilian objects. (There were six bombings in which the intended target was unclear.) In the 18 suicide bombings that appear to have been directed at civilians or civilian objects, over 200 civilians were killed or injured (91 killed, 119 injured).
In theory, suicide bombers as weapons are very discriminate: a suicide bomber can detonate at a target with an accuracy that could match or exceed that of the most sophisticated guided weapon. It is thus not an inherently indiscriminate weapon, such as land mines. However, it appears that in some circumstances, suicide bombers become nervous or confused, and detonate their explosives accidentally or prematurely. In Afghanistan, many attackers in 2006 appear to have erroneously detonated their explosives away from intended targets, killing and injuring civilians.
Thus while the majority of suicide attacks appear to be meant for military targets, the actual victims have been predominately civilian. Of the 112 bombings in which suicide attackers appeared to be targeting military targets, 32 resulted in no civilian or combatant casualties. Of the remaining 80 attacks on military targets in 2006, 57 attacks killed or injured more civilians than military or police. (See graph.)
Suicide Attacks Targeting Afghan and International Security Forces in 2006
Sources: Data is based on recorded attacks compiled by Human Rights Watch in March 2007.
Overall, the 80 suicide attacks on military targets killed 181 civilians and 37 US, coalition, NATO, or Afghan military or police personnel. In other words, in suicide attacks on military targets in 2006, insurgents killed nearly five times as many civilians as combatants.
Suicide attacks overall have had an even greater impact on the Afghan civilian population. Combining attacks that appeared to be on military targets and attacks that appeared to be directed at civilians, a total of 803 Afghan civilians were killed or injured in suicide attacks in 2006 (272 killed and 531 injured). Suicide attacks overall have killed almost eight times as many civilians as combatants.
Attacks on Schools
The Afghan civilian death toll was not the only problem that grew worse in 2006. Insurgent forces also continued to target the Afghan educational system: Afghan schools, teachers, and parents. Human Rights Watch in a July 2006 report Lessons in Terror documented anti-government bomb and arson attacks-primarily against girls' schools-and killings of teachers and threats against parents.
As discussed in that report, anti-government forces target schools either because of ideological opposition to secular education generally or to girls' education specifically, or because teachers and schools represent symbols of the government or the work of foreigners.
The problems detailed in Lessons in Terror have grown worse. In 2006 overall, anti-government forces carried out at least 190 attacks on teachers, school officials, students, and schools, including bombings, arson attacks and shootings-over twice as many as the 91 attacks on schools and teachers reported in 2005.
The escalating attacks have continued to severely impact school attendance, especially in southern areas. In early August 2006, only a little more than half way through the year, UNICEF released figures indicating that in four main southern provinces more than half of all schools were closed because of attacks or threats, and that approximately 100,000 children had been driven out of school. In August 2006, the Afghan ministry of education released a statement that 41 students, teachers, and school support staff were killed between January and July 2006 in insurgent attacks.
In a speech in October 2006, President Karzai said that 200,000 children nationwide had been driven out of school by ongoing violence.
Displacement and Lack of Development
The armed conflict is also contributing to displacement and lack of development in many areas of Afghanistan.
From August to September 2006, an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 Afghan families-about 90,000 to 120,000 men, women, and children-fled their homes in the southern provinces of Helmand, Uruzgon, and Kandahar because of ongoing violence and armed conflict, according to the UNHCR and the Afghan government. Approximately 115,000 other Afghans were already internally displaced within these provinces, meaning that, as of September 2006, at least 200,000 Afghans were reported to be displaced from their homes in these three provinces alone. In addition, an unknown number of others have been displaced in border regions of Paktika, Paktia, Khost, Nangahar, and Kunar. Millions of other refugees from all of these areas remain abroad in Pakistan or Iran.
In late 2006, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees noted that it was incapable of providing assistance in numerous conflict-affected areas in the southeast:
The security situation is likely to remain a concern in the south and south-east of the country where anti-government groups remain active, using increasingly indiscriminate means, including ambushes, suicide bombings and IEDs. Such activities are expected to have an impact in slowing down administrative reforms at the provincial and district levels. UNHCR's direct access to returnees in Afghanistan is unlikely to be significantly improved in 2007.
UNHCR's Global Appeal for 2007 makes clear that the situation remains grave:
At the time of writing, the situation in the south and south-east of the country remains extremely volatile, making it very difficult or impossible to have access to returnees. . . . The security situation continues to be a major concern and will likely restrain operational access, especially in the south and the south-east of the country.
To help handle the continuing caseload of displaced Afghans, UNHCR has requested over US$52 million, yet only expects about 400,000 refugees to return in 2007.
There is little for refugees to return to. Besides ongoing violence, little government assistance or developmental or humanitarian aid is available in southern and southeastern areas. International and government assistance and development projects have been suspended in most districts within the south and southeast for most of the last two years.
All parties to the military conflict in Afghanistan-Afghan government forces, US and other coalition forces, and insurgent groups-are bound by international humanitarian law (the laws of war).
International humanitarian law (IHL) imposes upon warring parties legal obligations to reduce unnecessary suffering and to protect civilians and other non-combatants. It is applicable to all situations of armed conflict, without regard to the legal basis for the conflict. That is, it applies whether the conflict itself is legal or illegal under international or domestic law, and whether those fighting are regular armies or non-state armed groups. All armed groups involved in a conflict must abide by IHL, and any individuals who violate IHL rules can be tried and convicted in domestic or international courts for their violations. The fact that insurgent forces are not the official government or military of Afghanistan is legally irrelevant to the applicability of international standards.
Insurgency itself is not a violation of international humanitarian law. The laws of war do not prohibit the existence of insurgent groups or their attacks on legitimate military targets. Rather, they restrict the means and method of insurgent attacks and impose upon them a duty to protect civilians and other non-combatants and minimize harm to civilians during military operations. International humanitarian law does not regulate whether states and armed groups can engage in hostilities, but rather how states and armed groups engage in hostilities.
Human Rights Watch, consistent with our position of neutrality in armed conflicts, takes no position on the legality under international law of military operations by US, NATO, and other coalition partners in Afghanistan, or of the insurgency against the Afghan government and its international allies.
Applicable Treaties and Customary Law
Specific international humanitarian law provisions applicable in Afghanistan have changed as the nature of conflict in Afghanistan has evolved over the past five years. The initial US-led military operation against the Taliban government that began in October 2001 was considered to be an international armed conflict-a conflict between opposing states. The law applicable to international conflicts includes the four Geneva Conventions of 1949, to which Afghanistan and the United States are party, and the Hague Regulations of 1907, which are considered reflective of customary international law.
After the fall of the Taliban government in November 2001 and with the creation of a government under President Hamid Karzai, the international armed conflict ended. Since then, hostilities have comprised a non-international armed conflict in which Afghan government forces and US, NATO, and other coalition partners are fighting against anti-government forces. (The conflict is not an international armed conflict under the conventions, since it is not a conflict between two or more states.)
Parties to a non-international armed conflict are obligated to observe applicable standards of the four 1949 Geneva Conventions, specifically, article 3 common to the conventions ("common article 3"), which provides standards for non-international armed conflict. All parties must also abide by the rules and obligations of customary law of armed conflict. Much of the customary rules concerning the means and methods of warfare can be found in the two Additional Protocols of 1977 to the Geneva Conventions, which are largely considered reflective of customary international humanitarian law.
In 2003, Afghanistan ratified the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Accordingly, all persons in Afghanistan responsible for war crimes and other violations of the Rome statute committed after May 2003, when the statute went into effect in Afghanistan, are subject to the ICC's jurisdiction.
International human rights law is also applicable in the current conflict. In the context of hostilities occurring as part of armed conflict, international humanitarian law, as the lex specialis,or specialized law, takes precedence but does not replace human rights law. Persons under the control of government or armed opposition forces in an internal armed conflict must in all cases be treated in accordance with international humanitarian law, which incorporates important human rights standards. (And where that law is absent, vague, or inapplicable, human rights law still applies.)
The rules above are not arbitrary standards, foreign to Afghanistan, or un-Islamic. On the contrary, these standards are considered throughout the world to be customary international law, and are solidly supported by statements and practice of combatants in every continent. These standards have been regularly invoked or cited by state and non-state actors in Afghanistan, and in Africa, Asia, South America, and the Middle East. The Geneva Conventions have been ratified by every nation in the world, and common article 3 and numerous other provisions are considered customary international law.
Afghanistan has long accepted the Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian law. The government of Afghanistan ratified the Geneva Conventions over fifty years ago, in September 1956. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the international agency that promotes adherence to the Geneva Conventions, has been active in and around Afghanistan since the late 1970s, and ICRC representatives at various times met with Afghan mujahidin commanders, including Taliban commanders now fighting against the coalition and government, to provide instruction on applicable IHL standards, among other humanitarian activities. The Taliban and other insurgents have accepted medical and other assistance from the ICRC in years past, assistance provided as part of the ICRC's mandate under the Geneva Conventions.
Notably, insurgent commanders themselves have invoked international standards in the past. In the late 1970s and 1980s, mujahidin commanders regularly invoked international standards publicly to condemn Soviet and Afghan government attacks in violation of international law and other illegal practices. For instance, in October 1985, at the height of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, several mujahidin representatives traveled to the United Nations in New York and condemned war crimes and human rights abuses committed by Soviet forces. They submitted a statement, signed by Gulbudin Hekmatyar, stating that "Soviet conduct in Afghanistan makes a mockery of the U.N. charter, the Declaration of Human Rights, international law and the norms of civilized behavior." During US-led military operations against the Taliban in late 2001, Taliban officials repeatedly invoked human rights and law of war norms in condemning US actions.
Human rights groups working in Afghanistan over the last 25 years-including Human Rights Watch-have also repeatedly invoked international humanitarian law and human rights law to criticize foreign governments operating on Afghan territory. Human Rights Watch repeatedly invoked IHL and human rights standards to criticize Soviet forces in the 1980s, and more recently have invoked these norms to criticize US and coalition forces. The Organization of Islamic Conferences has also invoked Geneva Conventions norms and human rights standards in its resolutions on armed conflict, including in connection with the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and civil conflict in the 1990s.
Applying Legal Standards to Insurgent Activities
Many of the attacks detailed in this report violated international humanitarian law and involved illegal methods of warfare which forces were obligated not to use.
Obligation to Distinguish Combatants from Civilians
Numerous cases are detailed in this report of insurgent forces carrying out attacks that were intentionally directed at civilians or civilian buildings or areas. Such attacks included bombings in civilian areas, and bombings or ambushes on civilian officials or humanitarian aid workers. Human Rights Watch gathered reports of as many as 177 separate attacks in 2006 that appear to have been intentionally directed at civilians or civilian objects, several of which were detailed in Chapter 3 of this report.
Intentional attacks on civilians are flatly prohibited under international humanitarian law, which makes the intentional targeting of civilians a war crime. One of the most basic rules of armed conflict is that parties to a conflict must distinguish between combatants and civilians and should not intentionally target civilians or other persons not taking direct part in hostilities. The principle exists in both international treaty law and customary international law. The ICC statute also makes the intentional targeting of civilians a war crime.
Civilians cannot be attacked unless and for only such time as they take a direct part in hostilities. According to the ICRC commentary to Protocol I, "direct participation [in hostilities] means acts of war which by their nature and purpose are likely to cause actual harm to the personnel and equipment of enemy armed forces." Direct participation in hostilities "implies a direct causal relationship between the activity engaged in and the harm done to the enemy at the time and the place where the activity takes place." Typically, civilians who fire weapons, directly assist combatants on the battlefield, such as by loading weapons or acting as artillery spotters, are considered to be directly participating in the hostilities.
"Hostilities" not only covers the time when the civilian actually makes use of a weapon but also the time that he is carrying it, as well as situations in which he undertakes hostile acts without using a weapon. Persons planning military operations or directing attacks would also be considered directly participating in hostilities. In case of doubt whether a person is a civilian, all forces should assume such a person is a civilian.
Afghan Police: Civilians or Combatants?
Police normally have the status of civilians. However, police units that take part in military operations or otherwise engage in military functions may be targeted as combatants. Individual police may only be targeted during such time that they take a direct part in the hostilities.
Although insurgent groups have carried out numerous attacks on police officers or police convoys in 2006, Human Rights Watch has not counted police deaths in the approximately 650 civilians killed in insurgent attacks, noted above. Human Rights Watch has taken this admittedly conservative approach because of difficulties in conducting research about attacks on police to determine whether the attacks were lawful under international standards. It is likely, however, that many attacks on police in 2006 were not legal, as many police officers working in Afghanistan are not directly taking part in hostilities, but instead engage in basic police activities: investigating ordinary crimes, directing traffic, and guarding civilian government offices.
Politicians and civilian government employees, civilian officials and staff of foreign governments, humanitarian aid workers, journalists, and contractors without a military function are all protected civilians under the laws of war, and cannot be targeted for attack. Any attacks directed at such persons are prohibited.
Indiscriminate and Disproportionate Attacks
International humanitarian law prohibits, as war crimes, attacks that use means or methods of attack that do not distinguish between civilians and combatants, and attacks in which the expected civilian loss is disproportionate to the anticipated military gain. Many of the attacks described in Chapter 3 above appear to have violated these requirements, as well as prohibitions against attacks that do not seek to minimize civilian casualties or are perfidious.
The ICRC articulates the rule against indiscriminate attacks as follows:
Indiscriminate attacks are those:
which are not directed against a specific military objective;
which employ a method or means of combat which cannot be directed at a specific military objective;
which employ a method or means of combat the effects of which cannot be limited as required by international humanitarian law;
and consequently, in each such case, are of a nature to strike military objectives and civilians or civilian objects without distinction.
Indiscriminate attacks include attacks in the vicinity of civilians or civilian areas that use bombs or other explosive materials so powerful that explosions cannot be limited to military targets. For instance, if an attacker uses a bomb to target a military convoy passing though a populated area that can be expected to cause destruction to combatants and civilians alike, without any distinction, the attack may be indiscriminate.
The ICRC explains the rule against disproportionate attacks as follows:
Launching an attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated, is prohibited.
Under international humanitarian law, a "military objective" is an object or a target, selected by its nature, location, purpose, or use, that contributes effectively to the enemy's military capability, and whose destruction or neutralization offers a definite military advantage in the circumstances. The anticipated military advantage must be concrete and direct, and not merely potential or theoretical.
Legitimate military objectives include the enemy's forces, weapons, convoys, installations, and supplies. In addition, objects generally used for civilian purposes, such as houses, buses, taxicabs, or a civilian airfield, can become military objectives if their location or use-such as being used by enemy troops-meets the criteria for a military objective. However, the laws of war characterize all objects as civilian unless they satisfy the test mentioned above. Objects normally dedicated to civilian use, such as houses, mosques, churches, and schools, are presumed not to be military objectives.
There is no specific formula for what constitutes a disproportionate attack. Excessive damage is a relative concept. The presence of a single soldier cannot serve as a justification to destroy an entire village. If the destruction of a bridge is of paramount importance for the occupation of a strategic zone, "it is understood that some houses may be hit, but not that a whole urban area be leveled." By contrast, if an attack is directed at a high-value military target, it is conceivable that a higher number of civilian casualties might be legally justifiable under the laws of war. However, the fact that an attack is directed at a military objective does not absolve the attacking party of responsibility for civilian deaths. Indiscriminate methods of attack are still impermissible, and there is never a justification for excessive civilian casualties, no matter how valuable the intended military target.
Taking Precautions to Minimize Harm to Civilians
International humanitarian law makes the above rules into positive obligations.
As the ICRC articulates these obligations:
In the conduct of military operations, constant care must be taken to spare the civilian population, civilians, and civilian objects. All feasible precautions must be taken to avoid, and in any event to minimize, incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, and damage to civilian objects.
Each party to the conflict must do everything feasible to verify that targets are military objectives.
Each party to the conflict must take all feasible precautions in the choice of means and methods of warfare with a view to avoiding, and in any event to minimizing, incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, and damage to civilian objects.
Each party to the conflict must do everything feasible to assess whether the attack may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.
Each party to the conflict must do everything feasible to cancel or suspend an attack if it becomes apparent that the target is not a military objective or that the attack may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.
These rules place obligations on parties to a conflict to take affirmative steps to minimize civilian casualties.
In the incidents documented in this report, Human Rights Watch found little evidence to suggest that insurgent forces were in any way seeking to minimize civilian losses. Many insurgent attacks in 2006 have unfolded in a typical way: an Afghan government vehicle or ISAF or coalition convoy is traveling through a city or village. As it passes by a set of shops or houses, a civilian car pulls into traffic alongside the convoy, and then explodes. Possibly a small number of troops or government personnel are injured and their vehicle is damaged. At the same time, a significant number of surrounding civilian buildings are destroyed, and numerous civilians are killed or injured. Indeed, in many attacks, insurgents appeared to have purposefully conducted attacks in the midst of crowds to conceal their attack, itself a violation of international law.
In order to avoid violating international law, insurgent forces must take better measures to protect civilians. Minimizing civilian losses could mean attacking military targets outside of crowded populated areas, or conducting attacks during a time of day when there would be fewer civilians out on the streets. Attacks that cannot be lawfully carried out must be cancelled or suspended.
Acts Intended to Spread Terror
This report has described several attacks in which the apparent aim of the insurgents was not merely to harm specific individuals, but to generate broader fear among the civilian population. This aim violates international legal norms.
Parties to a conflict cannot engage in acts or threats of violence primarily intended to cause terror or "extreme fear" among civilians. For instance, this would include the abduction or shooting of humanitarian aid workers in which the insurgents claim that such persons can be targeted because they are working with the government, as part of an apparent effort to drive out the larger humanitarian aid community. Insurgent groups have also regularly left "night-letters" warning civilians not to cooperate with government or international military forces or NGOs, or else face violence. And insurgents have bombed or set fire to schools in dozens of districts across Afghanistan with the apparent broader goal of disrupting the educational system. Depending on the attacker's intent, bombings directed at crowded civilian areas might also violate this rule, in addition to being an unlawful attack on civilians.
Perfidy and its Effects on the Civilian Population
In many of the attacks detailed in this report, anti-government forces have feigned civilian status-pretended to be civilians-in order to carry out attacks.
Under international law, this tactic violates the laws of war prohibitions against perfidy. Perfidious attacks are acts "inviting the confidence of an adversary to lead him to believe that he is entitled to, or is obliged to accord, protection under the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, with intent to betray that confidence." Examples of perfidy include "the feigning of civilian, non-combatant status." The ICC statute makes perfidy a war crime during a non-international armed conflict, listing it as "killing or wounding treacherously a combatant adversary."
This has especially been the case during suicide bomb attacks (discussed below) where suicide bombers almost always feign protected status as civilians to safely approach military targets, such as convoys and checkpoints, on foot or in a vehicle before detonating their weapon.
The rule against perfidy is meant not only to promote "honorable" war-fighting on the battlefield, but also to protect civilians and other persons and objects protected by international law. It is linked to other rules that are meant to protect civilians, such as the rule against using civilians as "shields."
Specifically, prohibiting combatants from feigning civilian status is meant in part to ensure the principle of distinction between combatants and civilians.
The prohibition is intended to minimize cases in which combatants mistakenly target civilians believing them to be combatants. Perfidious attacks have a damaging psychological impact on Afghan civilians and on Afghan government, coalition, and NATO forces, whose personnel fear that at any moment they may be killed by another "civilian" nearby. As a result, it increases the likelihood that actual civilians will be mistaken for suicide attackers by government, coalition, and NATO forces, and mistakenly attacked.
Such effects can be readily seen in incidents in which Afghan or international forces fire on civilian motorists who they mistakenly believe are suicide bombers-a regular occurrence in southern provinces and even around Kabul.
In November and December 2006 alone, Human Rights Watch collected reports of at least 17 Afghan civilian motorists shot by NATO or coalition troops in circumstances suggesting that NATO forces erroneously suspected the motorists of being suicide attackers. (Nine of the seventeen died.) These numbers are just from the last few months of 2006, when NATO began keeping more accurate records.
NATO press statements about these attacks, which could not be verified, provide some information about how these shootings can unfold. For example:
(23 November) Early yesterday morning, an incident involving an ISAF convoy traveling on the Bagram Road resulted in the death of one Afghan and the injury of 4 others. A civilian van was observed driving suspiciously in the vicinity of the convoy; ISAF troops signaled for the vehicle to stop and fired a number of shots. The driver subsequently lost control of the van and unfortunately crashed. Regrettably, one of the civilians was killed and 4 were injured. The casualties were taken to Kabul ANA hospital for medical treatment.
Another report reads:
(27 December) This morning, an ISAF security patrol was involved in a tragic incident resulting in the death of a young Afghan civilian. A vehicle approaching the patrol failed to head warnings to stop. The patrol fired upon the vehicle, unfortunately killing one Afghan civilian. . . . ISAF deeply regrets this loss of life.
The use of perfidious attacks by one party to an armed conflict does not excuse unlawful attacks in response. Afghan government and international forces still have an obligation to ensure that attacks are directed at military targets and not civilians, and to call off an attack when the civilian nature of a target becomes known.
Yet there have been several instances where international forces have responded to suicide attacks by firing indiscriminately on civilians.
In Kandahar city in late November 2006, ISAF personnel, fleeing from the scene of a vehicle suicide attack in which three soldiers in their convoy were injured, fired on several civilian motorists. Three civilians were reported killed by the gunfire, and approximately seven others were wounded. An ISAF spokesperson confirmed that ISAF personnel discharged their weapons in the wake of the attack, and said they were responding to what they perceived were potential suicide car bombs: "This is not to say that they were fired in a cavalier fashion, but the convoy had just been attacked by a suicide bomb. They had the right to self defence." (A similar incident occurred with US military forces in Nangahar in March 2007, during which at least 10 civilians were shot and killed.)
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) in December 2006 raised concerns about anti-government forces' use of perfidy and feigning civilian status, and about NATO forces' rules of engagement for situations in which they have come under attack by suicide bombers using perfidious disguise. The report specifically raised the following "key issues":
Increased risk to civilians due to frequent insurgent attacks with disregard for the civilian population.
Increasing number of incidents in which NATO/ISAF has fired at civilians who have strayed too close to traveling convoys.
Suicide Bombing Attacks
Many of the insurgent attacks discussed in this report were carried out by suicide bombers wearing explosive-laden vests or driving vehicles filled with explosives.
Suicide attacks are not an unlawful means of attack under international humanitarian law, and the suicidal methodology is irrelevant to its legality. For example, Japanese kamikaze attacks against US military forces during World War II were lawful attacks on military targets. And as noted above, over 80 percent of suicide attacks in Afghanistan in 2006 (112 attacks) appear to have been directed at military convoys or installations. Yet most insurgent suicide attacks in 2006 appear to have violated the laws of war.
First, suicide bombers have at times targeted civilians or civilian objects during their attacks, not military targets. Many of these attacks on civilians have been devastating. As noted above, over 200 civilians have been killed or injured in the 18 suicide bombings in 2006 that appear to have been directed at civilians or civilian objects (91 killed, 119 injured).
Second, in virtually all of the cases from 2006 investigated by Human Rights Watch in which suicide bombers attacked military objectives, the attacker feigned civilian status, violating the prohibition against perfidy. Attackers did not carry their weapons openly or wear insignia or uniforms identifying themselves as combatants. Rather, they dressed as civilians and with their explosives hidden, and then used their civilian status to get close to targets. Not only was this unlawful, but, as detailed above, it makes it more likely that belligerent forces may erroneously target civilians during military operations, mistakenly believing they are combatants.
Third, insurgent commanders have continued to carry out suicide bomb attacks after it became apparent that, in practice, the method of attack was indiscriminate, killing combatants and civilians without distinction, and perhaps disproportionate to any expected military gain. In theory, suicide bomb attacks are very precise, with the attacker able to determine specifically where and when to detonate the explosives. However, Human Rights Watch found that in practice bombers frequently panic or make misjudgments, setting off explosives at the wrong time or place-and without regard to civilians nearby. This has occurred time and again through 2006 and into 2007, with great loss of civilian life. Commanders who knowingly deploy such an indiscriminate weapon are committing war crimes.
Justifications by Insurgent Forces
Insurgent forces in Afghanistan often claim that their military operations are generally lawful, or that the targeting of civilians is legally permissible.
Media statements by various Taliban commanders and spokesmen, and documents attributed to the Taliban shura (council), indicate that Taliban leaders consider it permissible to attack Afghan government workers and teachers, employees of non-governmental organizations, or anyone who supports the government of President Hamid Karzai. Taliban spokesmen have at various times claimed responsibility for various kidnappings and killings of foreign humanitarian aid workers, claiming that they are killed because they are "spying for the Americans" or for NATO or coalition forces. Such statements not only implicate Taliban leaders in war crimes, but they facilitate and encourage lower level commanders in violations of the laws of war.
A "rulebook" issued by the Taliban leadership in December 2006 explains why the Taliban believes civilians and civilian infrastructure can be targeted for attack:
Working for the current puppet regime is not permitted, either in a madrassa [religious school] or as a schoolteacher, because that provides strength to the infidel system. In order to strengthen the new Islamic regime, Muslims should hire a religious teacher and study in mosque or another suitable place and the textbooks used should be from the mujahid [anti-Soviet war] time or the Taliban time.
Those who are working in the current puppet regime as a madrassa teacher or school teacher should be warned. If he doesn't stop he should be beaten. But if a teacher is teaching against true Islam he should be killed by the district commander or a group leader.
The NGOs that came into the country under the infidel's government are just like the government. They came here under the slogan of helping the people, but in fact they are part of this regime. That's why their every activity will be banned, whether it is building a road, bridge, clinic, school or madrassa, or anything else. If a school matches these conditions, it should be burned. If it is told to close but doesn't, it should be burned. But before burning it all religious books should be taken out.
In mid 2006, a Taliban commander in Helmand province under the command of Mullah Mohammad Kaseem Farouqi, told the LondonTimes: "The Americans, the British, Canadians and others have destroyed Afghanistan. We are hunting every individual who supports this imposed democracy. . . . We will also hunt the puppet Afghans who are the rented bicycle for the infidels."
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who leads Hezb-e Islami, in an October 2006 statement denied his forces' involvement in attacks on civilians and criticized such attacks. He explained:
We condemn the acts of those who instead of targeting the enemy, blow up mosques, kill mullahs, and burn schools. These are not acts that the mujahidin are involved in; rather, they are acts of the Americans or agents acting on the CIA's instructions. [The statement then provides an example of a mosque bombing, suggesting the attack was carried out by foreign forces.] Explosions of that type, that the victims have been innocent, have been carried out by the Americans and the British. . . along with local agents. The real mujahidin understand that burning and destroying schools does not hurt the enemy, and they understand that terrorizing lowly and mercenary propagandists, who are bought for a meager wage, has no significance to the enemy. Rather, these acts offer them propaganda material and a pretext to terrorize honorable Islamic scholars.
Hekmatyar's denial, however, contains ambiguities suggesting that civilians and civilian objects can be targeted if they are aiding in the "occupation" of Afghanistan:
The mujahidin understand that their aim is not to destroy schools, but to eliminate all those people who use schools as a front line against Islam and our people; our real enemies are those who use schools, hospitals and mosques as tools meant for the long-term occupation of our country.
Insurgent spokespersons and commanders have at times expressed concern for the security of civilians, at least those who do not work for the government or non-governmental organizations. For instance, in October 2006, Taliban spokesman Mohammad Hanif provided a statement to the Associated Press said to be from Mullah Omar, the former leader of the Taliban government, which stated: "I would again ask mujahidin to intensify their attacks, but they should avoid any harm to innocent people and children."
Just a month earlier, in September 2006, after the Taliban carried out an attack in Kabul aimed a convoy of ISAF troops in which approximately 15 civilians died, Ahmadi told a journalist by telephone: "We are sorry about the loss. We are trying our best to avoid civilian casualty [sic]. This is war."
The Taliban have spoken of "innocent" civilians on other occasions. For instance, after a January 2006 attack in the border town of Spin Boldak, near Kandahar, that reportedly killed 26 civilians attending a wrestling match, Ahmadi initially claimed responsibility for the attack, but later told Agence France-Presse: "We strongly condemn this attack on innocent people. The Taliban leadership convey their condolences to the relatives of the victims."
Rather than demonstrating their concern for certain civilians, such statements are unconvincing, given the record of insurgents detailed in this report, and ultimately highlight the Taliban's disregard for the security of those persons-protected under international humanitarian law-whom they do not consider to be "innocent." Expressing concerns for some in no way justifies unlawful acts against the others.
Precautions Against the Effects of Attacks
International humanitarian law places obligations on parties to a conflict to take steps to protect civilians from needless harm. Thus they must take "all feasible precautions" to protect the civilian population from the effects of attacks, and "must, to the extent feasible, avoid locating military objectives within or near densely populated areas."
Afghan government and international forces are responsible for providing security for the civilian population-operations which frequently entail operating within and near civilian areas. Thus, taking all "feasible" precautions is still likely to mean that these forces will conduct operations in highly populated areas. Nonetheless, certain steps, like keeping bases out of such areas and avoiding crowded roads, should be adopted where feasible to minimize the potential harm to civilians in the event of an insurgent attack.
International Forces, Security Concerns, and Laws of War Violations
Many Afghans who spoke to Human Rights Watch raised various concerns about the armed conflict, some relating to the specific conduct of the fighting by both sides, others relating to broader issues of the legitimacy of the insurgency and the role of international forces in supporting the government. While the former issue is within the purview of international humanitarian law, the latter is not, and yet for many Afghans the two types of concerns were invariably related. How each side engages in war was seen as affecting its legitimacy. Unmet expectations for security factored in heavily on individual opinions.
Many Afghans blamed Afghanistan's worsening security situation on failures by the government, coalition, and NATO forces since the fall of the Taliban. Some suggested that insurgent forces have had renewed successes in 2006-2007, especially in the south, because of support from local populations angry at general lack of security (from crime and insurgent attacks), government corruption, government alliances with warlords, and government failures to deliver promised development aid and governmental services. Others argued that Taliban popularity has been aided by the repeated cases in which coalition or US forces have killed civilians during military operations. Human Rights Watch has reported previously on a number of these security and governance issues.
Of particular concern to Human Rights Watch are violations of international humanitarian law by international forces. Afghan government, NATO, and coalition forces have carried out numerous military operations in 2006 against anti-government forces using ground operations, aerial bombardment, and missile strikes, some of which have killed significant numbers of civilians. Afghans are understandably outraged by cases in which international forces have killed civilians. At least 230 civilians were killed during coalition or NATO operations in 2006, some of which appear to have violated international humanitarian law. While there is no evidence suggesting that coalition or NATO forces have intentionally directed attacks against civilians, in a number of cases international forces have conducted indiscriminate attacks or otherwise failed to take adequate precautions to prevent harm to civilians. For instance, Human Rights Watch criticized several military operations by NATO forces in southern provinces in October 2006 which killed over 50 civilians, and, more recently, criticized operations in March 2007 that resulted in other civilian deaths.
International forces at times may also be placing civilians at unnecessary risk by entering in or operating too closely to civilian areas, and should consider refiguring some bases and patrol routes to minimize the possibility of attacks which cause incidental harm to civilians.
None of the criticisms above-whether failings in governance by the Afghan government or violations of international law by international forces-offer a legal or moral excuse for the illegal attacks described in this report. Responsibility for these attacks and their consequences lies squarely with the forces carrying them out, and the commanders who order them. Insurgent forces cannot credibly claim that the government is to blame for the hundreds of deaths and injuries resulting from attacks that they themselves carried out.
International humanitarian law places restrictions on the military operations of all parties to an armed conflict. State armed forces and opposition armed groups are prohibited from: intentionally targeting civilians or civilian objects; conducting attacks that do not discriminate between civilians and combatants or are anticipated to cause civilian loss that is disproportionate to the military gain; conducting attacks or threats primarily intended to spread terror amidst the civilian population; and attacking military targets using perfidious methods. In all attacks they must take all feasible steps to minimize harm to civilians. When conducting offensive operations, insurgent forces should choose areas to launch attacks that are not in proximity of civilian areas, and try to avoid operations in crowded civilian areas. Afghan government and international forces should, to the extent feasible, avoid locating their bases and operations within or near densely populated areas.
Human Rights Watch makes the following specific recommendations:
To the Taliban, Hezb-e Islami, Jaish al Muslemin, Jalaluddin Haqqani's forces, and other opposition armed groups:
Cease all intentional attacks on civilians and civilian objects. Commanders and other leaders of the Taliban and other insurgent groups should ensure that civilians are never targeted for attack. Under international humanitarian law, armed forces can only target military objectives, enemy combatants, or civilians directly participating in hostilities. Persons immune from attack include Afghan civilian government officials and employees, humanitarian aid and development workers, school teachers, journalists, doctors, and other non-combatant civil servants. Civilian objects such as schools, hospitals, and homes must not be attacked unless currently being used for military purposes.
Cease all attacks that cause indiscriminate or disproportionate harm to civilians or civilian objects. Insurgent forces attacking military targets must take all feasible steps to minimize harm to civilians. No attack should be carried out that uses means and methods of war that do not discriminate between civilians and combatants or are expected to cause excessive civilian harm. The Taliban and other armed groups should avoid any attacks in crowded civilian areas, such as busy roads, village or city streets, bazaars, or other public gathering places, given the likely unlawfulness of such operations.
Cease attacks or threats that are primarily meant to spread terror among civilians. The Taliban and other armed groups should not make threats or launch attacks intended to spread terror among the civilian population, which is illegal under the laws of war. They should not make threats of violence to civilians, such as the delivery of "night letters," or take other actions intended to terrorize civilians.
Stop feigning civilian status during attacks. Members of the Taliban and other insurgent groups should not pretend to be civilians to gain military advantage while carrying out attacks. Feigning civilian status puts civilians at heightened risk of attack during hostilities. Anti-government forces who seek to carry out attacks on military targets can use "ruses of war," including camouflage, decoys, mock operations, and misinformation, but they must not present themselves as civilians.
Affirm commitments to follow international humanitarian law. Anti-government forces should publicly affirm their commitment to follow established rules of the laws of war, including prohibitions against targeting civilians, using indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks, attacking with the primary intent to cause terror among civilians, and feigning civilian status to gain a military advantage. These are rules which Afghan forces invoked to criticize Soviet forces during the 1980s and US and coalition forces during the 2001 war.
To the Afghan government and allied international forces, including US, NATO, and coalition military forces:
Review policies and protocols for basing, patrolling, and convoys, to minimize harm to the civilian population. Government and international forces are at heightened risk of attack by anti-government forces, and should therefore seek to distance their forces from civilians and civilian objects to the extent feasible. Ensuring the protection of the civilian population does require that military forces at times place themselves in the vicinity of populated civilian areas. However, these forces where possible should take precautions to minimize harm to civilian life, for instance, by locating bases, checkpoints, or temporary posts at heightened distances from civilian areas.
Review rules of engagement and operating procedures for how forces respond to real or perceived suicide attackers. Government and allied forces need to improve their policies for identifying and warning civilians, to avoid mistaken shootings of civilians who are erroneously believed to be suicide attackers. Some suggested actions:
Take further steps to better mark checkpoints and convoy vehicles with lights and large signs in Dari and Pashto.
Have interpreters available at all checkpoints at all times.
Provide soldiers at checkpoints with basic knowledge of Dari and Pashto commands and hand signals to ensure better communication with civilians.
Strengthen public service campaigns to inform Afghan civilians about proper behavior at checkpoints and around convoys. Civilians should be informed of the basic guidelines to avoid danger.
To the government of Pakistan:
Properly investigate and prosecute insurgents located in Pakistan who have been implicated in serious violations of international humanitarian law.
End support, including providing safe haven, to insurgent forces operating out of Pakistan who are responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law. Pakistani authorities should ensure that no Pakistani government authorities, whether at a federal, province, or local level, are providing sanctuary or support to insurgents responsible for attacks violating the laws of war.
To political, religious, and civil society leaders in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere, including leaders who provide political or practical support to Afghan insurgent forces:
Speak out against intentional attacks on civilians, and attacks that are carried out indiscriminately, cause disproportionate harm to civilians, or use perfidious means. Political, religious and civil society leaders, tribal elders, and local government officials-whatever their views on the insurgency in Afghanistan-should denounce illegal methods of warfare used by Afghan insurgent forces. Illegal methods include assassinations, executions, and attacks on all civilians, including civilian government employees and aid workers, and attacks on civilian objects such as clinics and schools.
During visits to Afghanistan in mid-to-late 2006, Human Rights Watch interviewed dozens of witnesses and victims of bombing and shooting attacks, as well as surviving family members, and Afghan and international military and police personnel. Human Rights Watch obtained numerical data and additional details about the incidents described in this report from various sources including published and unpublished reports by international and non-governmental organizations, such as the Afghanistan NGO Security Office (ANSO), and from international and Afghan journalists who investigated the incidents. Most of the conclusions and data set out in this report have also been corroborated by information released by ANSO, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA), and media and other observers.
This report is based on research conducted by Michael Shaikh and Idris Khattak, Human Rights Watch consultants on Afghanistan. It was written by John Sifton, senior researcher on terrorism and counterterrorism, with input from Michael Shaikh and Sam Zia-Zarifi, research director of the Asia Division. It was edited by Joanne Mariner, terrorism and counterterrorism program director; Brad Adams, Asia Division director; and Joseph Saunders, deputy director of the Program Office. James Ross, senior legal advisor, provided legal review.
Ranee Adipat, Fitzroy Hepkins, Andrea Holley, Anna Lopriore, Veronica Matushaj, and Dominique Chambless produced the report. Alexandra Sandels and Ranee Adipat provided research assistance.
Human Rights Watch is deeply grateful to the Afghan men, women, and children whom we interviewed for this report and who assisted us in our investigations. For security reasons, none can be named here. We thank the staff and officials of nongovernmental organizations and UN agencies in Afghanistan, including UNICEF, UNAMA, and UNIFEM, who have assisted us with our work, as well as our Afghan translators and interpreters, and the numerous other sources who provided helpful comments, advice, and information. Human Rights Watch also gratefully acknowledges the assistance of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and officials in the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Women's Affairs, as well as officials in the International Security Assistance Force and the Afghanistan NGO Security Office.
We would also like to thank Ahmed Rashid and Barnett Rubin for their continuing support and encouragement.
Human Right Watch's research on Afghanistan and terrorism and counterterrorism issues requires significant resources. We acknowledge with appreciation the generous support of the Annenberg Foundation.
The following list provides selections from a database compiled by Human Rights Watch of attacks believed to have been carried out by the Taliban and other insurgent groups in Afghanistan in 2006. The entries below are based on Human Rights Watch research and interviews, reviews of security reports by the Afghanistan NGO Security Office, media reports, and statements by government officials, non-governmental organizations, and spokesmen of insurgent groups.
January 5, 2006 - A suicide bomber carried out an attack in the city of Tirin Kot, in southern Uruzgan province, a few hundred yards away from where US ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald Neumann was meeting with local leaders. The explosion killed at least 10 civilians and wounded approximately 50 others. The US Ambassador was unhurt in the blast. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack and said the bomb was intended to kill "high-ranking Americans."
January 14, 2006 - A bomb exploded in downtown Khost city, in eastern Afghanistan, in close proximity to a group of children celebrating their Eid holidays. The explosion killed two children and wounded 19 others.
January 17, 2006 - A bomb exploded in a crowd attending a wrestling match in Spin Boldak in southern Kandahar province. The explosion killed at least 20 civilians. A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility on the day of the attack, but later rescinded his statement and said the Taliban was not involved.
February 7, 2006 - A civilian vehicle carrying four construction workers in western Farah province was hit by a roadside bomb. All four passengers were killed: the Afghan driver, a Turkish engineer, an Indian engineer and a Nepalese security guard. The construction workers were assisting with repairs to the main road from Herat to Kandahar.
February 7, 2006 - A suicide bomber carried out an attack on a Kandahar city police station. The attack killed 6 police officers and 5 civilians; 13 other civilians were wounded, five seriously. Shortly after the incident a Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for this suicide attack.
March 11, 2006 - Six employees of a road building company-including four Macedonian workers and two Afghans-were abducted by a group of armed men on the border of Kandahar and Helmand provinces. The following day, the two Afghans were released unharmed but the four Macedonians were executed. According to the released drivers, armed men wearing police uniforms in a highway police vehicle stopped the group. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack and stated that they had executed the four for being spies. "We will kill anyone who is helping the Americans," a spokesman said.
March 12, 2006 - Two suicide bombers in Kabul carried out an attack directed at former Afghan president Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, now a senior official in the Afghan parliament. Two men with suicide vests detonated their explosives near Mojaddedi's vehicle, killing four pedestrians and severely wounding two others, including one girl. Mojaddidi was slightly burned on his hands and face. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
April 8, 2006 - A Taliban suicide bomber unsuccessfully attempted to drive an explosive-laden car into the main gate of the Italian-led ISAF Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) compound in Herat. The attack killed an Afghan guard on duty at the time, three civilians and injured seven others. The attack caused severe damage to the surrounding buildings but not serious damage to the PRT facility. A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the attack.
April 11, 2006 - Three rockets were fired at a US military base in Asadabad, in eastern Kunar province. One rocket hit a school in Asadabad city, killing seven school children and injuring 30 more, and one teacher.
April 25, 2006 - Two remote controlled mines exploded on the Kabul airport road near a coalition military compound. The mines were placed inside a garbage container near a mosque. The bombs exploded minutes apart, killing two civilians and wounding three others. The coalition forces suffered no damage or casualties.
April 28, 2006-Insurgents abducted and later killed Kasula Suryanarayana, an Indian telecommunications engineer, near Qalat city in southern Zabul province. A statement from the Taliban demanded that all Indian workers leave Afghanistan within 24 hours or the hostage would be killed. Suryanarayana's body was found decapitated on April 30. A Taliban spokesman said the group had not planned to kill the hostage but killed him when he tried to escape.
May 9, 2006 - Gunmen ambushed a vehicle belonging to the Department of Women's affairs in LashkarGahCity. There were three people in the vehicle: a driver and two women. The driver was killed and one women was wounded.
May 12, 2006 - Gunmen ambushed a UNICEF convoy in Karokh district in Herat province. The convoy was transporting doctors from a clinic in Badghis province back to neighboring Herat. The gunmen launched a rocket propelled grenade at the lead vehicle in the convoy, a civilian vehicle clearly marked with a "UN" logo. Two people were killed in the attack: a UN staff-person and an engineer with a non-governmental humanitarian organization.
May 21, 2006 - The body of a man was found in Badghis province; authorities believe he was abducted and killed by insurgents involved in the May 12 attack detailed above. Officials said the man had informed authorities about the identities of suspected perpetrators of the May 12 attack, possibly making him a target.
May 21, 2006 - A vehicle-borne suicide bomber carried out an attack on a US military convoy on Jalalabad Road in Kabul city. The suicide attacker detonated after the military convoy had passed. Four civilian bystanders and the suicide bomber were killed and two others were injured. Several roadside shops were also destroyed in the attack. No damage was reported to the military convoy. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
May 22, 2006 - A remote-controlled bomb detonated near a vehicle used by a public health NGO in Wardak province near Kabul. The explosion killed all four passengers of the vehicle, including a doctor, two nurses and the driver.
May 27, 2006 - Two armed men on a motorbike assassinated Mawlavi Fazul Rahman, a prominent religious scholar in Ghazni province. The shooting occurred as Mawlavi Rahman was returning home from a religious graduation ceremony. The following day the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
May 30, 2006 - Four gunmen on motorcycles ambushed a NGO staff vehicle in Mingajig district of Jowzjan province. The attackers stopped the car and executed four aid workers by gunshots to the head. Nothing was stolen from the vehicle.
June 2-3, 2006 - A vehicle-borne suicide attacker attempted to attack a coalition convoy in Arghandab district in Kandahar province. The bombers detonated after the convoy passed. The explosion killed three civilians and the suicide bomber. One other civilian was also wounded in the incident. The same day, gunmen in Kunar province shot and killed Haji Mursalin, a local tribal leader, as he attended mosque. Mursalin had been working on reconciliation efforts with insurgent groups. The next day, Dr. Eid Mohammad, the director of a provincial health department, and his brother, were shot and killed by gunmen in Wormami District of Paktika province. The two men were en route to visit a newly-built health clinic. Local authorities said they suspected Taliban forces had carried out the attacks on both Haji Mursalin and Eid Mohammad.
June 4, 2006 - A vehicle-borne suicide bomber carried out an attack on a convoy carrying Afghan government and coalition officials in Kandahar city. The explosion killed four pedestrians and wounded 12 other civilians, three of whom were in critical condition. Coalition and government personnel suffered no casualties or damage.
June 8, 2006 - Armed men on a motorcycle in Chemtal district of Balkh province attacked three staff members of a national humanitarian NGO. The attackers ambushed the NGO vehicle with gunfire. When the vehicle stopped, the attackers shot at the three aid workers in the car, killing two and severely injuring the third.
June 15, 2006 - A bomb planted on a bus exploded in Kandahar city. The bus had been carrying local workers to the Kandahar airfield. The explosion killed at least 12 passengers and wounded 14 others, including passersby. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
June 23, 2006 - Four bodies were found beheaded in Shahjoy district in Zabul province. The bodies appeared to be four civilians who insurgents kidnapped on June 19, 2006. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the beheadings, and accused the four of spying for coalition forces and the Afghan government.
June 24, 2006 - Two men on a motorcycle shot and killed Abdul Satar, a member of the religious shura in Kandahar city. The victim was responsible for computerizing newsletters and magazines for the shura.
July 3, 2006 - Gunmen attacked a taxi carrying six civilians working for the coalition forces in Pech district of Kunar province. The assailants killed five of the civilians and critically wounded a sixth. Taliban spokesmen had repeatedly left warnings in Kunar province telling local residents not to work for government or international forces.
July 4-5, 2006 - Several bombings occurred in Kabul city, including two attacks on the street and two bombings on government employee buses. One of the street attacks on July 5 was carried out in front of the Ministry of Justice. The bomb, hidden in a vegetable cart, killed two civilians and wounded two others. Another bomb detonated the same day near a Ministry of Commerce bus transporting workers. The explosion killed two civilians and injured four others.
July 13, 2006 - A bomb exploded in the main bazaar in Mazar-e Sharif in Balkh province. The attack took place across the street from the city's Blue Mosque. The bomb detonated as an ISAF convoy was passing. One civilian was killed and three others were injured, including one child. The ISAF convoy was unharmed.
July 16, 2006 - A suicide attacker detonated himself in close proximity to a military patrol in Gardez city on the main road to Khost. The explosion killed the suicide attacker and four civilians. Eight other civilians were also injured. The military patrol was unaffected.
July 22, 2006 - A suicide attacker carried out an attack on a passing military convoy in Kandahar city. The attack killed the suicide bomber, two coalition soldiers, and wounded eight other soldiers and five pedestrians. After the attack, as coalition personnel sealed off the site of the attack, a crowd of civilians assembled approximately 150 meters from the scene. A second suicide bomber then detonated next to the crowd, killing six civilians and wounding 27 others. Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi said the Taliban had carried out both attacks. Ahmadi told Agence France-Presse that, "The second [suicide attack] was pre-planned to impact more casualties."
July 23, 2006 - A suicide bomber detonated in close proximity to a police check post in Gurbez district in eastern Khost province. Four civilians were killed and six others were wounded in the incident. No police casualties were reported.
August 3, 2006 - A suicide attacker detonated a car bomb in a crowded market in Panjwai Markaz, a town about 25 km west of Kandahar city. The intended target of the attack appeared to be a Canadian ISAF patrol, but the bomb detonated when the patrol was roughly 200-400 meters away. The patrol was unharmed but the attack killed at least 21 civilians, including children, and wounded dozens more. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
August 12, 2006 - Insurgents launched several mortar rounds on a road construction company in Kunar province. Several mortar rounds hit near the construction company's compound, causing no casualties or damage. Two other mortar rounds fell short and hit a residential compound, injuring 20 family members and killing numerous livestock.
August 28, 2006 - A bomb detonated in the middle of the day in a crowded bazaar in Lashkar Gah, Helmand. The bomb killed 15 civilians and wounded 47 others, including 15 children. A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for attack and stated that the target was a civilian businessman.
September 8, 2006 - A suicide bomber detonated next to a US military convoy traveling through a crowded street in the Wazir Akbar Khan area of Kabul; two US soldiers and 14 civilians were killed, including several women and children. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
September 10, 2006 - A suicide bomber targeted and killed Abdul Hakim Taniwal, the 63-year-old governor of Paktia, along with his nephew, driver, and a bodyguard. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. (The next day, September 11, 2006, a suicide bomber targeted Taniwal's funeral, killing two children and wounding approximately 40 other civilians.)
September 25, 2006 - Two gunmen on a motorcycle assassinated Safia Ama Jan, a woman in her mid-60s who served as the Kandahar director for Afghanistan's Ministry of Women's Affairs. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
September 26, 2006 - A suicide bomber carried out an attack on a vehicle near the provincial governor's office in Lashkar Gah, in Helmand. At the time of the attack a crowd of civilians was gathered outside of the governor's office, applying for permission letters to travel to Mecca for the Hajj. The explosion from the suicide attack killed three soldiers and 13 civilians, and wounded 18 other civilians. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
September 30, 2006 - A suicide bomber detonated near the Ministry of Interior office in downtown Kabul, killing 12 civilians, including an 8-year-old boy, and injuring another 42. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
October 13, 2006 - A suicide attacker in a car targeted a coalition convoy. The explosion killed one soldier and eight civilians. Eleven other civilians were wounded. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
October 18, 2006 - Three armed men on a motorcycle stopped a taxi carrying two government staff members in Bala Murghab district, in western Badghis province. The government staff members were forced out from the vehicle and shot dead. The taxi driver was unharmed, possibly because he was not a government employee.
October 27, 2006 - A civilian vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb in Tirin Kot in Uruzgan province. The explosion killed 14 civilians and wounded three others. The bomb was planted on a route used by both civilians and coalition vehicles.
November 26, 2006 - A suicide bomber carried out an attack on police officials in a crowded restaurant in Paktika province. The attacker's target appeared to be a district commissioner and regional head of police, who were eating breakfast at the restaurant. The district commissioner and the head of police were injured, and fifteen people were killed and 25 others injured, most of them civilians. Many of the casualties were children.
November 27, 2006 - A suicide bomber carried out an attack on an ISAF convoy near a bus stand in Kandahar city. Two ISAF soldiers were killed and one other was wounded, but nine civilians were also wounded. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the bombing.
December 3, 2006 - A suicide bomber carried out an attack on an ISAF convoy driving through Kandahar city. Three ISAF soldiers were wounded and one of their vehicles was severely damaged in the incident. In addition, two civilians were killed and seven others wounded. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
December 5, 2006 - A suicide bomber carried out an attack on an ISAF convoy in Panjwai village in Kandahar province. Two ISAF soldiers were wounded in the bombing. Six civilians were also wounded, including a small child. Four of the civilians were critically wounded.
December 7, 2006 - A suicide bomber attacked a joint ISAF and Afghan military convoy in Kandahar city. The attacker detonated before reaching the convoy, wounding 10 civilians, including a small girl. No casualties were reported to the military convoy.
December 9, 2006 - Gunmen scaled the wall of a residential compound in a village in the southeastern province of Kunar, entered the house, and shot and killed two sisters who worked as local schoolteachers, as well as their mother, grandmother, and a 20-year-old male relative. Prior to their murders, the two teachers had received a written warning from the Taliban to stop teaching or "end up facing the penalty."
December 14, 2006 - A suicide bomber carried out an attack on a police vehicle near Qalat city in Zabul province. Only five police personnel were injured, but three civilians were killed and five others were wounded.