The Taliban Sunday defended a controversial widespread house-to-house search operation in and around Kabul, claiming it was aimed at capturing criminals and de-weaponizing the Afghan capital.
Zabihullah Mujahid, the chief Taliban government spokesman, also announced they would not allow evacuations of more Afghans until living conditions improve abroad for those who have already left Afghanistan.
The security operation, which went into action on Friday, has been focusing on city residential areas and several adjacent provinces, causing panic and outrage among residents in these locations.
Some residents have alleged the Taliban are targeting security officials of the now-defunct Afghan government in the name of fighting crime. Others have complained of “misconduct” by security forces and consider the operation a violation of their privacy.
On Sunday, Mujahid rejected the accusations as propaganda by opponents of the new ruling system in Afghanistan, telling reporters in Kabul that security forces “are exercising utmost care” and their sole mission is to ensure public security.
“In the wake of changes we have seen, we believe once this operation is concluded there will be no need to conduct such activities in future,” Mujahid said when asked whether the house-to-house searches in the capital would become routine for the time being.
He argued that many people had possessed or kept arms in their homes and once the operation is concluded, people will not have easy access to arms because of “laws and vigilance” of government security institutions.
“Inshallah (God willing) this will be the last operation and will lead to security,” he said.
Mujahid said the operation has been “successful” and would be completed soon. It has led to the confiscation of hundreds of light as well as heavy weapons, including rocket-launchers and grenades, 13 armored vehicles and tons of explosives, he added.
The spokesman said dozens of outlaws, including several members of the Islamic State terrorist group, were also rounded up and arrested.
While it was difficult to ascertain the veracity of the Taliban claims, Kabul is considered to be among one of the most weaponized cities in the world. Posh residential areas are known for housing notorious Afghan warlords, narcotics dealers, and palatial homes built by former officials accused of massive corruption while in office.
"The intimidations, house searches, arrests and violence against members of different ethnic groups and women are crimes and must stop immediately," tweeted Andreas von Brandt, the EU ambassador to Afghanistan.
No more evacuations
Mujahid also said Sunday that families wanting to leave Afghanistan will now require “legitimate reasons” for doing so, insisting the Taliban has not promised anyone that the evacuation process would run indefinitely. He argued the Taliban had received reports of tens of thousands of Afghans “living in very bad conditions” in Qatar and Turkey.
“Initially we had said that the Americans… could take people that they thought had any concerns about…But this is not a continuous promise.”
“It is the government’s responsibility to protect its people so this [evacuations] will be stopped until we get the assurance that their lives will not be endangered,” Mujahid said.
More than 120,000 Afghans and dual nationals have been evacuated since the last U.S.-led foreign troops withdrew from the country in late August, days after the Western-backed government in Kabul and its security forces collapsed and the Taliban marched into the capital to seize power.
Mostly, those people who were evacuated worked for American and allied Western forces. Fearing Taliban reprisals, these Afghans fled as the United States and its allies left Afghanistan after 20 years.
An unspecified number of Afghans with similar associations are still in the country and desperately trying to leave for security reasons. Taliban leaders have rejected those concerns, citing a blanket amnesty they announced for all Afghans immediately after capturing Kabul.
The United Nations says more than 100 people with links to the former government, including military personnel, have been killed by the Taliban, charges the group rejects.
Curbs on women
Mujahid said Afghan women would be barred from traveling abroad unless accompanied by a male chaperone.
“This is the order of Islamic sharia law,” he said, adding that Taliban officials were examining ways to make sure the order didn’t affect women who may have scholarships to travel abroad for studies.
The hardline group has already placed various restrictions on women such as barring them from undertaking long road trips unless accompanied by a close male relative. But unlike their past rule from 1996 to 2001 when women were banned from education and work, the Taliban this time around have allowed female students to return to universities and promised that all female secondary school children will be back in the classroom in late March.
Female government employees in health and education sectors have also been allowed to go back to their offices, while the rest have been told to remain at home until further notice. Taliban officials have citied financial constraints and a lack of arrangements in line with sharia, or Islamic law, for women to work in a secure environment.
Speaking on Sunday, Mujahid also welcomed a recent U.S. decision to ease restrictions on Afghan banks, allowing for money transfers for Afghan business owners and others, but excluding individual Taliban members under terrorism-related international sanctions.
The U.S. and other Western governments have seized around $9.5 billion in Afghan foreign cash reserves, mostly held in the U.S., since the Taliban‘s return to power. They have also suspended foreign financial assistance to Afghanistan, an aid-dependent economy, triggering economic upheaval and worsening the war- and drought-ravaged country’s already bad humanitarian crisis.