KABUL — Guns drawn, half a dozen Taliban fighters crowded into the house of a Kabul laborer Saturday. As a commander watched, his men took knives to the cushions that lined the family’s sitting room, splitting them open and dumping the stuffing onto the floor. Others pulled family photos off shelves and tossed clothing out of closets.
“They said they were looking for weapons,” said the laborer’s wife, who listened to the exchange from a room in the back of the house. “They said, ‘We know you had relations with the former regime.’ But my husband never worked for the government.”
The wife, like others in this report, spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. After finding nothing, the fighters beat the laborer’s adolescent son and confiscated a family car.
Such raids, part of a massive search operation launched in Kabul and surrounding districts Friday, according to the ministry of interior, mark a significant shift in how the group enforces security. When raids occurred in the past, they were generally not announced and largely conducted at night to reduce visibility. This operation is being carried out in broad daylight.
The searches began in northern Kabul, but by Saturday thousands of armed Taliban fighters fanned out into the city center, according to the spokesman for the city’s police chief, Khalid Zadran. Dressed in mismatched uniforms, some carrying rocket-propelled grenades, the men walked through residential streets, methodically combing neighborhoods, moving door to door.
“We assure the citizens of Kabul that these operations are not against the common people,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a news conference Sunday. “We have no bad intentions against anyone. These operations are against those who are thieves, kidnappers, who cause misery to our society and put the lives of Afghans in danger.”
Mujahid described the conduct of the searches as “professional,” and “well-planned.” When asked about allegations of abuse, he dismissed them as propaganda dispersed by supporters of Afghanistan’s previous government.
“You may remember the search operations carried out by the Americans and their allies with planes and helicopters that entered people’s homes at night and bombed us, killing civilians,” he said. “If we compare the current operations with that situation, our search operations are much more professional and carried out with greater caution.”
He said the operation’s aim is to improve security in Kabul and surrounding areas and create an environment more conducive to business and investment.
Over the course of three days, Taliban fighters searched thousands of houses, according to a statement released by Mujahid’s office, and confiscated hundreds of weapons, including pistols, artillery and rocket-propelled grenades.
“People who have no criminal record should not be worried and stay with peace at their houses,” the news release from Mujahid’s office said.
But several Kabul residents described mistreatment at the hands of Taliban fighters, including destruction of property, threats and physical assault. Photographs and videos shared with The Post show rooms that appeared to have been ransacked. Kabul residents described finding upturned furniture, smashed appliances and kicked-in doors after the fighters completed their search.
Such conduct raises questions about the Taliban’s ability to maintain security while respecting civil rights.
“If abuses did happen, it was not our intended policy,” said Zadran, the Kabul police chief spokesman. “We have phone numbers to call if anyone has any complaints, and I have not received any calls.”
Not all residents interviewed by The Post reported abuses. Some families said the Taliban fighters who searched their homes were polite and did not inflict any damage. Non-Afghans living in Kabul were also largely treated with respect, including foreign aid workers.
Of those who received harsher treatment during the search operations, many are members of Afghanistan’s minority groups.
“The intimidations, house searches, arrests and violence against members of different ethnic groups and women are crimes and must stop immediately. Despite Putin’s war we are watching you!” tweeted the European Union’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Andreas von Brandt.
Increased concern among Taliban leadership regarding weapons stores and individuals sympathetic to the previous government comes with the approach of spring, which for the past two decades was Afghanistan’s traditional fighting season. Just over six months since taking power, the Taliban is experiencing increased attacks in the northern province of Panjshir from forces once loyal to the previous government.
A Taliban commander dispatched to Panjshir said clashes in the area have intensified in recent weeks and, after a series of rocket attacks resulted in Taliban casualties, Kabul sent reinforcements to the valley where operations are ongoing. The commander spoke on the condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the press. Ali Maisam Nazary, a spokesman for anti-Taliban forces in Panjshir, also reported increased clashes and Taliban casualties.
In Kabul, it is unclear when the search operations will end, according to Mujahid. But he pledged the capital will be thoroughly cleared, and there will be no need for a second sweep of this size.
“This will be the last operation,” he said. “Once this operation is complete, security will come.”