Civilians caught in crossfire of war against Taliban

As the Taliban threatens to retaliate against its leader’s death, Afghan civilians continue to pay the highest price.

Afghan civilians
Ali Mohammadi's wife says her daughters always ask for their father [Fatima Faizi/ Al Jazeera]

Basira Mohammadi has no answer to give to her two daughters – Sitaeesh, 3, and Sana, 1 – when they call for their father.

Her husband, Mohammed Ali Mohammadi, has not been home since January when he was killed in a Taliban suicide bombing.

“I am sick of them asking about Ali all the time. I cannot explain to them that he is dead and will never return,” Basira, who now lives with her mother along with her two children, told Al Jazeera.

Ali Mohammadi, a Dari dubbing artist at Kaboora, a production company affiliated to Afghanistan’s first 24-hour broadcaster TOLO News, was killed when a Taliban suicide car bomber detonated explosives near their bus in Kabul.

Six other colleagues were killed in the attack.

“My husband used to call me every day after work, asking if I needed something from a shop. But that night, my phone didn’t ring,” Basira said. 

“My father-in-law told me the next morning that Ali had passed away.”

Sitaeesh, left, smiles at her late father's picture  [Fatima Faizi/ Al Jazeera]
Sitaeesh, left, smiles at her late father’s picture  [Fatima Faizi/ Al Jazeera]

In September 2015, the Taliban, under now-late leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, staged an escalating offensive against Afghan government forces, gaining territory across the country. 

According to the Pentagon, the Taliban initiated about 800 to 1,000 attacks per month in the second half of 2015.

In late 2015, the armed group also openly threatened to target TOLO News after it had reported allegations of summary executions, rape, kidnappings and other abuses by Taliban fighters during the battle for Kunduz in October.

The Taliban said at the time that the reports were inaccurate.

Two months after the January attack, in a statement emailed to Al Jazeera, the Taliban said that it was responsible for targeting the bus carrying Ali Mohammadi.

The father of two was the sole breadwinner in his family. Following Mohammadi’s death, TOLO News promised to pay his family $300 per month for one year as bereavement support.

When I heard about Mullah Mansoor’s death, I wasn’t happy, nor sad. I’ve lost my husband, there is no point in hating him as my husband will never come back with this,” Basira said. 

Basira's mother, centre, now helps her daughter raise her children [Fatima Faizi/ Al Jazeera] 
Basira’s mother, centre, now helps her daughter raise her children [Fatima Faizi/ Al Jazeera] 

Mullah Mansoor was killed last week in a US strike in Pakistan, a year after his appointment as leader of the group. 

Confirming the death of Mansoor, the Taliban also announced that Mullah Haibatullah Akhunzada would be its new leader.

READ MORE: Who is the new Taliban leader?

“It does not matter who the next Taliban leader is; innocent people are getting killed in this country every day. Nothing will change with the new leader, they will keep fighting,” Basira said.

“But I want to tell them [the Taliban]: please don’t kill civilians, just don’t kill them.”

Haji Hashmatullah says he misses his son, Saifullah, 
Haji Hashmatullah says he misses his son, Saifullah, “every day” [Fatima Faizi/Al Jazeera]

Last month, a huge car bomb attack in Kabul near the Afghan defence ministry and presidential palace killed at least 60 people.

Among them was Saifullah, a driver at the ministry, who left behind a father, a wife and five children. The youngest one, Narwand, is two years old. 

“We cannot bear this loss,” Safiullah’s father Haji Hashmatullah told Al Jazeera.  

“It is hard for us to live without him [Safiullah]. I am an old man and cannot imagine what will happen to them [his wife and children] when I die.” 

Saifullah was the sole breadwinner of his family too. His father now works as a farmer to earn a living. 

“My son was innocent and he got killed in a suicide attack. What was his fault?

“I blame the Afghan government and the Taliban as both of them are fighting against each other in a bid to win without thinking of all the innocent people getting killed.”

Haji Hashmatullah believes the government is not doing enough to protect civilians [Fatima Faizi/ Al Jazeera] 
Haji Hashmatullah believes the government is not doing enough to protect civilians [Fatima Faizi/ Al Jazeera] 

According to a February UN report, last year’s hostilities in Afghanistan left more than 3,500 civilians dead, including a record number of children. One in four casualties during 2015 was a child, making this the highest number of civilian deaths recorded.

“This report records yet another rise in the number of civilians hurt or killed. The harm done to civilians is totally unacceptable,” Nicholas Haysom, the secretary-general’s special representative for Afghanistan, said in a statement at the time.

The UN figures also showed a 4 percent rise in total civilian casualties during 2015, compared to the year before. 

“We call on those inflicting this pain on the people of Afghanistan to take concrete action to protect civilians and put a stop to the killing and maiming of civilians in 2016.” 

Yet, the prospect of peace seems distant.

“There are no chances at the moment for peace talks and I don’t think there will be in the near future,” a Taliban source told Al Jazeera.

“Mullah Mansoor got killed by US drone strikes, so instead of talking about peace, they are planning Mullah Mansoor’s revenge,” the source said.

Amid the escalating conflict, Basira said her only worry was the future of her children.

“We don’t know where this war will take our country. The government has failed and the Taliban are not giving up. Where do we go?”

Mohammed Ali Mohammadi left behind two daughters and a wife [Fatima Faizi/Al Jazeera]
Mohammed Ali Mohammadi left behind two daughters and a wife [Fatima Faizi/Al Jazeera]
Source: Al Jazeera