HERAT -- The Taliban, facing a shortage of fighters due to losses to Afghan security forces on the battlefield, are resorting to forcing drug addicts to fight for them, according to local authorities in Herat Province.
The insurgent outfit promises addicts that they will receive treatment but instead sends them to the front, said Abdul Ahad Walizada, a spokesman for the Herat police department.
"The Taliban take addicts to the remote districts of Herat like Shindand, Obe and Chesht-e-Sharif, keep them there for a few days and then give them weapons to fight," he said. "Since these fighters are addicts, they always run from the battlefields because they are unable to fight the security forces."
With thinning ranks, the Taliban no longer have the ability to mobilise and fight as before and are forced to drag vulnerable Afghans onto the battlefield, said Jilani Farhad, a spokesman for the Herat governor.
"This act of the Taliban proves that they are not committed to the messages they give every day because they are deceiving the public," he added. "They try to attain their goals by any means."
"Since Afghans have an increasing demand for peace, no one is ready to join the Taliban's ranks to engage in violence," added Farhad. "The small number of individuals who are with the Taliban are fighting for their own interests."
The Taliban secretly round up addicts and promise them treatment, confirmed drug addicts in Herat.
The Taliban regularly came to the area and took 50 to 100 addicts each time in their vehicles, telling them they would receive treatment and support, said Basir Ahmad, an addict in Injil District.
The addicts never returned, he said.
"There has been no word from the addicts that the Taliban took with them," he added. As for the addicts who do not want to fight, "they shoot them, saying that the addicts are of no use and should be killed."
"I have several times witnessed the Taliban abducting addicts," he added. "They took two of my friends as well who never returned."
The Taliban seek out only young addicts and ignore the weaker or older ones, said Ahmad.
"They take these addicts and send them to the front," he said. "As no one else will join the Taliban, they have to use the addicts to preserve their position and prestige [in fighting]."
Abdul Zaher, an addict in Herat city, also witnessed the militants abducting members of this vulnerable group.
The Taliban would send them to Shindand District and provide treatment for them for a few days but would then give them weapons to go to war," he said. "A good number of addicts have been killed."
"The Taliban abducted a family member of mine nine months ago," he added. "We haven't heard from him, and we don't know whether he's dead or alive."
"They [the Taliban] park their vehicles near the addicts, and 10 to 15 of them get out, force the addicts who can't escape into their vehicles and abduct them," he said. "The Taliban may or may not treat these addicts, but they give them weapons and send them to the front. Many addicts have lost their lives in battles."
Even though these addicts have never held a weapon before, the Taliban still send them to war where they are being killed, he added.
An unforgivable act
Military analysts and human rights activists consider this act of the Taliban a war crime.
Recruiting addicts is against the laws of war and human rights conventions, said Mohammad Naim Ghayur, a military analyst in Herat city.
"The Taliban's misuse of young drug addicts on the battlefields is a war crime and unforgivable," he said.
"All acts of the Taliban are war crimes, and they are involved in the killing of innocent civilians every day," he added.
While the Taliban call themselves an Islamic group and "consider their war 'jihad', the manner in which they abuse ailing addicts shows that the group neither believes in Islam nor abides by the laws of war", said Ghayur.
"Based on the laws of war and Islamic values, the Taliban don't have the right to send drug addicts to war," he added. "The Taliban should be held accountable for the killing of addicts in battles."
The misuse of addicts by the Taliban is a criminal act that violates all human rights principles, agreed Wahid Ahmad Aslami, director of the security agency oversight unit of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC)'s office in Herat Province.
Drug addicts are ill and need treatment and should not be recruited for war, he said.
"The reports we have received show that the Taliban use the addicts as fighters, and this act of the Taliban is an obvious breach of human rights laws," added Aslami.
"The Taliban force the addicts to take part in fighting, but they are ill and don't have the ability to fight," he said.
The AIHRC is concerned about this situation and condemns this practice by the Taliban, Aslami said.