Taliban Killing Greater Numbers of Children in Afghanistan as Prison Breaks Swell Ranks

Afghan children in more danger than ever from the Taliban
Taliban fighters previously held in Afghan and Pakistani prisons have returned to wage jihad, killing more of Afghanistan’s civilians in 2013 than in any year since 2009.  The United Nations Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA) issued a report on February 8, 2014 showing a 34 percent increase last year in the number of children killed or wounded over 2012.

The UNAMA report attributed only three percent of casualties to international forces. The lion’s share (74 percent) was caused by anti-government elements (AGE), with 11 percent attributed to Afghan National Security Forces. Of the 2,959 civilian deaths reported, over half were caused by civilians stepping on or driving over improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Other civilians suffered in the 962 battles between security forces and groups identifying as Taliban, including members of the Haqqani Network, Hezb-e-Islami Hekmatyar and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

Three large prison breaks from 2011 to 2013 have resulted in the return to Afghanistan of over 1,000 Taliban jihadists responsible for the killing of far greater numbers of Afghan children in 2013 than in 2012. Two of the breaks were from Pakistani prisons and one from an Afghan prison.

Last July 248 prisoners broke out of jail in the western Pakistani town of Dera Ismail Khan (DI Khan). In April 2012, in the town of Bannu, located in northern Pakistan, 384 prisoners escaped from jail, and a year earlier, the Taliban liberated 541 of their fellow militants by digging a tunnel 360 meters (1,181 feet) under the prison in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Guards and other employees at the Bannu jail, located in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province, reported that 150-200 men stormed the prison, engaging in a two-hour pitched battle with prison guards. The fighters and escapees then departed in over 50 trucks, which had been parked on the main highway near the jail. Shahab Khan, the prison telephone operator, claimed throughout the battle, he sent requests to the Pakistani military for backup. Every time he was told that help would be there soon, but reinforcements never arrived. Dozens of trucks loaded with escaped prisoners and fighters then drove through Bannu and into nearby North Waziristan, passing unimpeded through numerous military checkpoints in the city and along the highway.

Last summer a very similar event occurred in DI Khan, also located in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province, just southeast of North Waziristan. This time, the military and provincial governments received advance warning that a jailbreak would occur, complete with numerous details about the attack, including how many vehicles to expect,  where they would be parked and which prison barrack was the intended target. In the midst of the bust-out, the attackers stopped to enjoy a leisurely pizza with some of the guards. While inside, they also took time out to find and behead four ethnic Shia inmates.

Pakistan’s media reported the attackers and escapees melted into the surrounding city and countryside. Local witnesses, however, described a very different sight. Over a dozen trucks loaded with fighters and prisoners were said to have roared through the streets and up the highway, whooping, hollering and shooting into the air “like a wedding parade,” again blowing unimpeded past numerous military checkpoints, on their way to Taliban-controlled North Waziristan.

With so many Taliban fighters returned from prison to the field, it is not surprising that Afghanistan suffered the killing of hundreds more women and children in 2013.

By Melissa Roddy
Photo by Melissa Roddy
New York Times