KUNDUZ -- Taliban fighters have cut down hundreds of trees along a highway in Kunduz Province in a bid to improve their ability to launch attacks on security forces, officials say.
The Taliban chopped down about 300 trees along 10km of the Kunduz–Takhar highway from Bagh-e-Miri village to Khwaja Pista village in a span of three days starting on May 4, said Esmatullah Muradi, a spokesperson for the Kunduz governor.
"Some of these trees were up to 40 years old," said Muradi. "It is unfortunate that the Taliban cut them down mercilessly."
A delegation has been assigned to investigate the incident and security forces will launch operations to stop the Taliban from continuing the practice, according to Muradi.
The militants took down the trees as they hindered their ability to attack vehicles on the road, said Farid Ahmadi, a bus driver who transports passengers on the Kunduz-Takhar highway.
"The level of threats to military vehicles travelling [on the highway] increased after the trees were felled," he said.
While the Taliban chopped some trees in half with a saw, they removed others entirely, said Safiullah Amiri, the deputy chairman of the Kunduz provincial council.
"We condemn this act of the Taliban," he said.
"We, the local population, have asked the Taliban not to cut down the trees, but they didn't listen to us," said Mohibullah Hakimi, a resident of Khwaja Pista village.
"The Taliban even forced locals to help them chop down the trees," he said.
Clearing operations planned
Hashmatullah Jalil, the director of the Kunduz Department of Environmental Protection, called the Taliban's act a breach of environment law.
"The Afghan government tries to protect and rehabilitate greenery so that the quality of air improves for citizens, but the Taliban are destroying the environment," he said.
"Under environmental law, those who cut down forests can face jail terms," said Jalil.
"Retaining greenery and planting trees reduce air pollution and safeguards human beings against respiratory diseases," he said.
The Taliban resorted to felling the trees to target vehicles because they feared clearing operations in the Qabr-e Qazi area of the Kunduz-Takhar highway, said Col. Abdul Hadi Jamal, a spokesman for the Afghan National Army's 217th Pamir Corps in Kunduz Province.
"We are seriously looking at this incident, and we're determined to identify and arrest those who issued the order to chop down these trees," he said.
"The 217th Pamir Corps plans to relaunch cleaning operations as soon as possible to destroy all the safe havens of the group along the highway," said Jamal.