GHAZNI (Afghanistan) • The government in Afghanistan yesterday announced it would launch an investigation into the deaths of more than 20 policemen killed in a battle with the Taleban. This came after relatives accused it of failing to provide timely assistance.
Hundreds of Taleban fighters launched a raid on several check posts manned by local police in the Jalrez district of eastern Wardak province on Thursday night, triggering a battle that lasted about 24 hours. Around 23 Afghan local police - a militia hired and controlled by the government - were killed, officials said, with some of the dead bodies decapitated.
President Ashraf Ghani termed the killings a "war crime" and called for an investigation, according to a statement by his office yesterday. Fresh forces who arrived in Jalrez last Saturday took back territory lost to the insurgents, but the families of the victims - all from the Hazara ethnic minority - said the government had failed to provide ammunition and reinforcements in time.
"It is all because of the government's negligence; there were a lot of police and army check posts around Jalrez but nobody cared... The government is responsible for their deaths," Mr Mohammad Aref, the nephew of one of the fallen commanders, told AFP.
He said his uncle, Mr Mohammad, also known as Sia, was in touch with his family right before he died.
"In his last call, he told us that he had only seven bullets left, he said goodbye and hung up. We never heard from him again."
In Kabul over the weekend, several hundred people protested against the government's handling of the incident, which prominent Hazara politician Mohammad Mohaqiq called a "catastrophe".
The Jalrez raid was the latest in a series of brazen Taleban attacks since the group began their annual spring offensive in April.
Fighting on multiple fronts and facing record casualties, Afghan forces totalling 350,000 are struggling to rein in militants following the end of Nato's combat mission last December.
Located at the gates of Kabul, the capital, Wardak province has long remained volatile. Convoys supplying Nato forces passing through the area are often targeted by roadside bombs and Taleban fire.
Mr Ghani, who formed a power-sharing government with his election rival, Mr Abdullah Abdullah, after last year's vote ended in a deadlock, has struggled to fill Cabinet positions and security posts months after taking office. His initial two attempts at introducing a defence minister failed.
His first nominee was rejected by Parliament, while his second choice withdrew his nomination after videos of him making ethnically charged comments surfaced on social media. In his third attempt, Mr Ghani in May nominated Mr Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, a close confidant who had, for years, led the efforts to reach out to the Taleban for peace talks.
Mr Ghani personally accompanied Mr Stanekzai to the Defence Ministry and installed him as caretaker even before he was confirmed. But during his parliamentary confirmation last Saturday, Mr Stanekzai fell short by 23 votes, leaving Mr Ghani without a defence minister.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NEW YORK TIMES