HERAT -- The Taliban's killing of two female doctors who were on a humanitarian mission in Ghor Province has stoked widespread anger among Afghans and is further proof of the terrorist group's campaign of targeting innocent civilians, government officials and activists say.
Taliban militants on October 24 opened fire on a vehicle carrying personnel from Co-ordination of Humanitarian Assistance (CHA), an NGO. They were on a mission to treat children and women in Bara Khana village, near the provincial capital, Firoz Koh.
"The workers of CHA who deliver health services in the province were attacked by the enemy in the Bara Khana area. One of their female colleagues was killed and another injured," said Habibullah Radmanish, the deputy governor of Ghor. "She lost her life a few hours later."
Three male workers of the aid agency were travelling in the same vehicle but were not harmed.
The Taliban intentionally set out to kill the two women, signifying a continuation of crimes committed by the insurgents in Ghor, said Radmanish.
The killing of women and children
So far this year, 78 civilians -- including 10 women and 10 children -- have been killed and 72 injured by the Taliban in Ghor Province, according to the provincial office of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) and civil society organisations.
Civilian casualties this year have occurred from bombings, combat and assassinations, said Abdul Hamid Natiqi, a member of the Ghor Provincial Council.
"Reports that the provincial council has received show that the Taliban have deliberately killed innocent civilians in many districts of Ghor Province," he said. "As the Taliban bury mines along the commuting routes of civilians in villages and districts, it means they're directly involved in killing them."
The Taliban have scattered mines on public roadways, resulting in the daily killings of civilians, agreed Hasan Hakimi, a civil society organisation co-ordinator in Ghor Province.
These civilian deaths "have been officially recorded by the Independent Human Rights Commission", he added. "We believe that the Taliban have committed even more killings in villages and remote areas that haven't been reported to government or non-government agencies."
"A few days ago, five members of a family were travelling in a vehicle that was hit by a Taliban roadside mine, leaving all of them dead," he said.
The Taliban have even scattered mines in farmers' fields, killing farmers and animal herders every day, said Hakimi.
The Taliban are using civilians as human shields to increase civilian casualties and thereby create a distance between the government and the public, said Ghor Governor Ghulam Naser Khaze.
The Taliban lack the ability to confront security forces, so they resort to killing civilians, said Khaze.
"Most of the casualties suffered by civilians like herders and farmers come from land mines that the Taliban buried," he said.
Civil society activists and religious scholars have condemned the killing of civilians, especially of women and children, by the Taliban and consider it an unforgivable act and a crime against humanity.
Nothing can justify the Taliban's attacks on women, said Sayed Muhammad Sherzadi, director of the Hajj and Religious Affairs Department in Herat.
"Women have the right to have their lives protected, and from the viewpoint of Islam, no one has the right to attack and take the life of a woman or a sister," said Sherzadi.
"Women have special respect in Islam," he said. "Women need to be protected as an impartial and defenceless party in the conflict. The Taliban, who claim that they are Muslims and are performing jihad, are unaware they have committed a crime and an un-Islamic act by killing the two women in Ghor."
The Ghor office of the AIHRC condemned the Taliban's killing of innocent women and children in the province.
The murder, torture and harassment committed by the Taliban run against the values of human rights and humanity, said Sajjad Sahil, director of the AIHRC Ghor office.
"We call on the security forces and legal and judicial bodies to arrest and try murderers," he added. "We want parties to the conflict, especially the Taliban, to respect lives and human dignity during armed conflicts."
Plenty of eyewitnesses have seen the Taliban intentionally kill civilians in Ghor Province, committing a crime against humanity, said Sahil.
The killing of defenceless civilians not party to a conflict is prohibited in Islam, said Maulawi Saifuddin Murtazawi, member of a council of religious scholars and clerics in Ghor Province.
"When insurgents or security forces capture someone in war, they don't have the right to kill them, and civilians shouldn't be killed under any circumstances," he added.
"The Taliban must avoid all those tactics and actions that inflict casualties on civilians, and they have to stop committing massacres in the name of religion," Murtazawi said.
"The Taliban's actions show that they have no mercy for anyone -- they have no respect for the elderly, women or children," he said. "The Taliban have several times killed civilians who were older than 80."
"The Taliban's use of religion as a weapon has concerned religious scholars like us," Murtazawi said. "The Taliban should respect Islamic values in war and refrain from the killing of the innocent and neutral. Islam strongly condemns this act of the Taliban."