KUNDUZ -- The Taliban set fire to a high school in Taloqan, Takhar Province, on Tuesday (July 14) after using the building to shoot at security forces, destroying most of the facility's equipment and educational materials, police officials say.
The militants established a position in Dr. Abdul Latif Shaheed High School while the school was shut because of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Abdul Khalil Aseer, a spokesman for the Takhar Police.
Schools have been closed throughout Afghanistan for the past few months to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
The Taliban opened fire from the school building at 6pm on a security convoy that was passing through the area, Aseer said.
"Taliban militants were engaged in fighting with the Afghan security forces for an hour, and as they tried to withdraw, they set fire to the school building," he said.
"The Taliban used this school as a military base, and after they set fire to the school building, the library, laboratory, furniture, educational materials and books were burned," he added.
The ambush caused no casualties among the security forces, said Aseer.
About 1,000 boys and girls attended the facility when it was open.
"In this incident, the school library burned with all of its 10,000 books," said Rohullah Mohaqiq, director of the Takhar Department of Education.
Mohaqiq called on parties to the conflict to refrain from targeting schools and to allow children to receive a proper education.
In addition to educational books, religious books including Tafseer [the interpretation of the Koran], Hadith, Fiqh and copies of the Koran were destroyed in the fire, said Muhammad Azam Afzali, a member of the Takhar provincial council.
"The name of the Prophet Muhammad was printed in those books, but they burned them to ashes," said Afzali.
A committee has been assigned to assess the losses from the fire and the local government will soon repair the school, said Muhammad Jawad Hejri, a spokesman for the Takhar governor.
The incident comes as the Taliban have stepped up their violent campaign across Afghanistan, with officials blaming the insurgents for killing hundreds of security personnel and civilians in recent weeks.
Their attacks have threatened the peace accord signed with the United States in February as well planned talks with the Afghan government to end the insurgency.
This is the second school that the Taliban have burned in Takhar Province in the past six months.
On February 3, the Taliban set fire to a girls' school in Bodala village in the outskirts of Taloqan, also burning all its educational materials and books.
Following the recent attack, local residents urged the Taliban to stop attacking schools and let their children go to school.
"Targeting schools is a crime against humanity," said Sayed Hashmatullah Haqjo, a resident of Takhar Province.
"As this group attack our schools today, tomorrow they will definitely kill our students and teachers," he said.
"Our government begs the international community for school buildings and other projects of public interest, and look how easily and mercilessly the Taliban set fire to them," said Muhammad Omar Ghayour, a tribal elder in Takhar Province.