Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Afghan Checkpoints Draw Insurgent Attacks

Tagab district residents say police taking up position too near schools and health centre.
By Maiwand Safi

Residents of Tagab, a district northeast of the capital Kabul, say the heightened presence of government security forces is making them feel less safe than before. New checkpoints located near schools and clinics are magnets for Taleban attacks, leaving civilians at risk of being caught in the crossfire.

Locals say Afghan security forces have positioned themselves uncomfortably close to schools, hospitals, and other public buildings.

A health clinic in the village of Aday Zai is a case in point. A focus for people in surrounding areas who would travel for hours to get there, it has become noticeably less busy since a checkpoint was erected about 15 metres away last autumn. People avoid the area because the Taleban have already attacked the checkpoint.

Instead of the Afghan National Army, ANP, or Afghan National Police, ANP, the Aday Zai checkpoint and others like it are manned by members of the Afghan Local Police, a recent government initiative designed to formalise the status of various community defence forces across the country.

Ghatol, a woman from Aday Zai, said two of her grandchildren had been ill for the past week but she had not taken them to the clinic.

“Every night, we decide we must take the children to the clinic the following day. But when it comes to next morning, we’re unable to go because we’re afraid clashes will break out between the Taleban and the militia at the checkpoint nearby, we might be injured. We don’t know what to do.”

The director of public health in Tagab district, Hashmat Amin Yaqubi, said, “This is also a big problem for our doctors, many of whom don’t come to work as they are fear clashes.”

A doctor at the Aday Zai clinic, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IWPR he was trying to find a job elsewhere.

“Every day that I come here, I’m not optimistic about getting back home alive. We worry every moment that the Taleban will attack [the checkpoint] and we’ll be killed in the crossfire.”

A nearby school is also at risk as it is just ten metres from the same checkpoint.

Mahfuz, a teacher at the Shahid Abdul Ghias School, said it would have to close down for good unless the checkpoint was removed.

He said the area round the school had been the scene of frequent battles between Taleban forces and the international troops.

“Whenever we found out that the Taleban, the government forces or the foreign forces were in the area, we’d close the school for the day. Families didn’t let their children come to school to avoid casualties,” he said.

The head of education in Tagab district, Pir Mohammad, said checkpoints had been removed from some schools, but still existed in others. As a result, schooling was suffering as teachers and pupils stayed away from dangerous areas.

Checkpoints have been set up outside two schools for girls in the village of Qorghal, an area which sees frequent armed clashes. The walls of one of them are already scarred with bullets.

A farmer described how his 17-year-old son Khaleqyar was injured in a clash between government forces and the Taleban near the school in Mira Khel which he attends.

Six months on, Khaleqyar can walk only with the help of crutches.

“My son is disabled; he can’t sit. I wish I hadn’t enrolled him in school,” the farmer said. “I’ve heard they are going to set up militia checkpoints around the Mira Khel school. I think the government must be anti-education, because once the checkpoints are in place, the school will close down.”

The proximity of government positions to public facilities gives the Taleban a pretext to launch assaults. Although the insurgents claim they have nothing against schools and clinics, they have targeted them in other parts of Afghanistan.

“The government and foreign forces always accuse us of using civilians as shields, but you can see for yourself who is doing this,” a Taleban spokesman in Tagab said.

A member of Kapisa provincial council, Najib Rahimi, condemned the policy.

“Security officials have not contacted us about this at all,” he said. “We are not in agreement with government checkpoints being present in locations like this; it harms the local people more than it serves them.”

The director of education for Kapisa province, Abdul Wahed Hekmat, said he planned to raise concerns about the checkpoints with senior government officials.

“I will definitely solve this problem. I strongly condemn the establishment of military bases and checkpoints at schools,” he said.

District health chief Yaqubi said officials had told him that the checkpoints would stay where they were for the time being, but would be moved to other locations in future.

The police chief for the district, Pacha Gol Bakhtiar, defended the policy, saying the checkpoint in Aday Zai stemmed from a joint decision by the ANA, the ANP, the national security service and international troops to prevent the Taleban from taking up position on roads where they used to launch attacks, stop vehicles and abduct the occupants.

“The Taleban are no longer in evidence on the main road,” he said. “This is because of the checkpoints, which will remain there temporarily.”

In Aday Zai, local man Aminullah, pointed out bullet-holes in the clinic wall from a recent firefight.

“Look, this clinic which once treated people is now wounded itself,” he said.

Maiwand Safi is an IWPR-trained reporter in Kapisa province, Afghanistan.

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