KUNDUZ -- Afghan commandos on Wednesday (February 17) night freed 24 inmates from a Taliban prison in Kunduz province in the most recent of a series of similar rescue operations.
Commando units swept into a Taliban prison in Kabuli Qeshlaq village, Aqtash district, Kunduz province, the Special Operations Corps said.
They released 24 Taliban-held prisoners, among them 16 members of the Afghan National Army (ANA), two police officers, four commandos, a National Directorate of Security (NDS) member, and a civilian.
A few days earlier, in a Monday night operation, Afghan commandos rescued 17 civilians and 25 Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) personnel from a Taliban prison in Baghlan province.
That operation took place in Ali Khwaja village in Baghlan-e-Jadid district, the Special Operations Corps said.
Individuals rescued from the Dand-e-Shahabuddin prison recounted the torture and harassment they endured during their detention at the hands of the Taliban.
Tortured by the Taliban
Muhammad Saber, 38, who was released from a Baghlan prison, said the Taliban abducted him on his way from Kunduz to Kabul in the Jar-e-Khushk area of Baghlan last December.
"The Taliban beat me up because they thought I worked with the government, and they wanted me to confess that I was a civil servant," he said. "But I am a shopkeeper, and I wanted to bring products for my shop from Kabul to Kunduz."
The Taliban punched, kicked and flogged those who did not give detailed answers to their questions and extracted confessions, not caring whether they were true or false, by administering electrical shocks, he said.
"They served prisoners only one meal a day," he said. "Ten people had to share one loaf of bread."
"On January 8, I was on the Baghlan–Badakhshan highway, on my way to Badakhshan, when the Taliban stopped our vehicle in Hussainkhel, Baghlan province, and abducted a few of us," said Abdul Saboor Sayeedi, another released prisoner.
Sayeedi, who described himself as a "low-ranking civil servant" who travelled to Kabul on business, said that during their ordeal, he and the others were kept "in a house that was in ruins".
"The Taliban were able to find all my information within a few minutes," he said. "They found out what my job was and where I worked and even showed me my photo in the employment registration [database]."
"I was kept in the Taliban prison for 18 days, during which I experienced very brutal days, and I couldn't sleep out of fear," he added.
"Every moment, I felt I could get killed that day or [the] next day," he said. "But the commandos arrived like rescuing angels and freed us from the Taliban's torture."
ANA soldier Abdul Fatah Samadi said his mental health deteriorated in the Taliban's prison. He said he thought about his family constantly and worried about the future of his wife and children if he were to die.
"When I was released from the Taliban's prison, I felt like I was reborn," he said, adding that he would never forget that feeling.
"There is no law or justice in the Taliban's system," he said.
Brutal treatment of civilians
The Taliban detain civilians and security personnel to use them as leverage for prisoner swaps, said Ghulam Farooq Farooqi, a Baghlan political affairs analyst.
Most detainees are civilians with no connection to the government, he said.
The Taliban have been committing more kidnappings in recent weeks in hopes of obtaining more leverage in the peace talks, said Baghlan civil society activist Khalid Sharifi.
"Our information shows that the Taliban have used prisoners to dig wells and tunnels in [Baghlan] province," he said.
"We are concerned about the future of civilians in Baghlan as the number of abductions and casualties increases by the day," said Abdul Rahim Aria, director of Baghlan province's civilian protection group.
In January alone, almost 50 civilians, including some children, were killed or injured in Dand-e-Ghori and Baghlan-e-Markazi districts and in Pul-i-Khumri city, Aria said. "We call on parties to the conflict to ... respect civilian lives."
Improved highway security
ANA troops destroyed Taliban checkpoints in Chashma-e-Shir on the Baghlan–Samangan highway in an operation in January, Baghlan police spokesman Ahmad Jawed Basharat said.
Since then, he said, the Taliban have not had specific locations to use for their harassment and extortion attempts.
Baghlan security forces have increased their patrol and mobile checkpoints on the Baghlan–Kabul, Baghlan–Kunduz and Baghlan–Samangan highways to prevent the Taliban's disruptive activity, he said.