The Afghan Taliban have pulled out of the strategic northern city of Kunduz after a dramatic siege late last month, which spurred two weeks of intense fighting with government forces.
Even though the armed group took over the city for three days, the violence left several civilians dead or unnacounted for, and hundreds displaced.
The Taliban’s hasty retreat after its first symbolic takeover in 14 years was marked by a fierce fight for control, where children were forcibly deployed in frontline operations.
Afghanistan’s children have paid a huge price in the conflict in the past several years. In the first half of this year alone, the number of child casualtiesreached a record since the UN-led Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism was established 2009.
Al Jazeera’s Priyanka Gupta spoke to Leila Zerrougui, the UN special representative for children and armed conflict, who says there are reports that the Taliban used children as young as 10 in their fight in Kunduz.
Al Jazeera : How did the Taliban recruit and use children in their frontline operations, in Kunduz?
Leila Zerrougui : The information that we have received is that children are not only recruited and used by the Taliban in the frontline, something that is completely unacceptable, but also that the number of children killed and maimed in the conflict was also very high. The access to these areas are very difficult but what we know so far is that at least 10 children have been killed in the Kunduz conflict and 53 have been injured.
Al Jazeera : What kinds of violations against children are we talking about since the beginning of the Taliban offensive in Kunduz?
Leila Zerrougui : We have seen the Taliban recruiting children before for a long time. The information we have received from Kunduz is that children as young as 10 were forcibly recruited and have been used in fighting in Kunduz.
In the past, we also had information of abduction of children and their use particularly for planting IEDs and as suicide bombers.
They are also recruited as spies where they ran the risk of being killed by the other side.
In Kunduz, children between the ages of 10 and 15 were used by the Taliban and dozens of them were deployed according to eyewitnesses, but we cannot confirm the exact number for now.
Al Jazeera : The Taliban have made a retreat for the time being but there are still fears that they might return. Howdoes this uncertainty impact education and health services there? How are children affected by that?
Leila Zerrougui : In every conflict, children make up almost half of the population among refugees and those displaced. In Kunduz, at least 500 schools have been closed, affecting more than 300,000 children. Children account for the majority among an estimated 10,000 families displaced by the hostilities.
When you have a conflict in your area, you will not send your child to school. Teachers are the ones who are first targeted, children are displaced, and fear is instilled in them. The conflict has long term consequences if the law and order is now established quickly because then the armed groups take control or occupy the schools.
Al Jazeera : The Pentagon has said that it will make condolence payments to the families of those who died in a US air strike at the MSF hospital in Kunduz. President Obama, too, issued a rare apology.The organisation has asked for an independent investigation saying the attack was a violation of the Geneva conventions? Where does your office stand on this?
Leila Zerrougui : It is important that President Obama assumed responsibility and made it clear that reparations to the victim will be made. It is important and a good example to show that if something happens the government assumed responsibility and repair what’s left to be repaired. But it’s also important to prevent such violations like in Kunduz from happening again. So an investigation must be conducted and it is important that it is impartial, independent, effective and timely.