Taliban Executes Female Prison Guard, and U.N. Raises Concern Over Afghan Violence

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban abducted and executed a female prison guard in the eastern Afghan province of Ghazni, officials and relatives said Monday, as the United Nations expressed concern over the war’s unending toll on civilians.

Fatima Rajabi, 23, who had trained as a police officer, was pulled out of a civilian minibus on her way to her home village in the Jaghori district two weeks ago. After holding her captive for two weeks, the Taliban executed the young woman and sent her body to her family, her brother, Samiullah Rajabi, said.

“My sister was shot eight times,” Mr. Rajabi said. “When we opened the coffin, her hands were behind her, together and stiff — you could tell her hands were first tied and they had only untied them after they sent the body.”

The United Nations, in a report released on Monday on civilian harm in the Afghan conflict in the first six months of the year, expressed particular concern about the rise of abductions and executions by the Taliban. There has been an increase of more than a fivefold in civilian casualties tied to abductions since last year, it said.

Nearly 1,300 civilians have been killed and close 2,200 others wounded in the first six months of the year, according to the United Nations, which attributed 43 percent of the civilian casualties to the Taliban and 23 percent to Afghan forces.

It said the insurgent violence had grown deadlier, with a 33 percent increase in deaths caused by the Taliban over the same time period last year.

Women and children made up about 40 percent of the overall dead and injured, with pro-government forces responsible for the death of more children than the Taliban, the United Nations said. Civilian casualties from airstrikes by Afghan forces tripled from the first half of 2019.

“The reality remains that Afghanistan continues to be one of the deadliest conflicts in the world for civilians,” the report noted. “Each year, thousands of civilians are killed and injured, abducted, displaced and threatened by parties to the conflict in Afghanistan.”

The numbers still marked an overall 13 percent reduction in civilian casualties — which accounts for injuries and deaths — from the same period last year.

That is largely attributed to a major drop in casualties from United State airstrikes and attacks by the Islamic State branch in the country, which has shrunk significantly after major military operations. As part of a withdrawal deal signed with the Taliban in February, the United States is no longer deploying its air power against the group except in extreme cases, such as when their Afghan allies are being routed.

Although the United States has reduced its troops in the country to about 8,600 — it is on schedule to complete a full withdrawal over a 14-month period laid out in the agreement — other elements of the peace agreement, mainly direct negotiations between the Afghan sides over future power-sharing, have stalled as the violence continues.

“At a time when the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban have a historic opportunity to come together at the negotiating table for peace talks, the tragic reality is that the fighting continues inflicting terrible harm to civilians every day,” said Deborah Lyons, the U.N. secretary-general’s special representative for Afghanistan.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the United States’ special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, has begun another trip to meet with the Taliban’s negotiating team, based in Doha, and Afghan leaders in Kabul and push for direct negotiations, the State Department said. Those negotiations were expected to begin in March, but were delayed by disagreements over a prisoner swap under which the Afghan government was expected to free 5,000 Taliban fighters in return for 1,000 of its forces.

Jaghori, where Ms. Rajabi was traveling to see her family at the time of her abduction, was long considered one of the safest districts in a volatile region inhabited by the Hazara ethnic group. But in 2018, the Taliban launched an assault on the area and nearly took control, before being pushed back.

The insurgents have increasingly threatened the highways and main roads across Afghanistan, taxing commercial vehicles and searching buses for anyone suspected of working for the government.

Mr. Rajabi said his sister would often travel home unannounced to reduce the risk of being detained. Her family found out she was taken by the Taliban only after five days had passed.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, denied that the group was behind the execution.

But local officials said the Taliban had been using Ms. Rajabi to pressure local leaders into resolving certain outstanding issues, possibly including taxes that the Taliban believe they are owed. “The Taliban were angry that despite repeated notices, the leaders hadn’t reported to them,” said Mohamad Ayub Bahonar, the district governor of Jaghori.

Ms. Rajabi’s 70-year mother, Mariam Akbari, traveled to the Taliban-held area to beg for her daughter’s release. The Taliban told her she must bring 15 district leaders who they wanted to talk to — something that was out of her power, she said.

“I went and begged, I lowered myself at their feet, so my sweet daughter could come back to me alive,” Ms. Akbari said. “They told me ‘You are old, we respect you, but don’t come again.’”

Ms. Akbari had already lost one son, a police officer, to the war about ten years ago. One of her two remaining sons lives with her and has a heart condition, and the other has lived in Iran for years without much contact with the family.

“I really loved my daughter,” she said. “She had joined the police out of poverty. Fatima was my only breadwinner.”

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