Attacks by extremists on Afghan schools triple, report says

An Afghan girl walking towards her school. The number of attacks increased to 192 from 68, a surge not seen since 2015, according to the report by the United Nations agency for children.
An Afghan girl walking towards her school. The number of attacks increased to 192 from 68, a surge not seen since 2015, according to the report by the United Nations agency for children. PHOTO: AFP

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN (NYTIMES) - Attacks on Afghan schools tripled from 2017 to 2018, a Unicef report said on Tuesday (May 28), as the Taleban and other extremist groups in Afghanistan continue to wage a campaign of violence against so-called softer targets, far from the battlefield.

The number of attacks increased to 192 from 68, a surge not seen since 2015, according to the report by the United Nations agency for children. The number of children not attending school also increased last year for the first time since 2002.

It is yet another sign of the deteriorating security situation across Afghanistan. To some Afghans, the report offered concrete evidence that the repressive Taleban regime is again on the rise, even as the United States attempts to negotiate a peace settlement with the group.

Ms Nooria Nazhat, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Education, said the government did not have any specific statistics to back up the Unicef report.

But she added: "Every week, we have a report about schools getting attacked in Afghanistan."

In the last several months, 431 schools for both boys and girls have closed for "security issues", Ms Nazhat said, and the government is trying to reopen them.

The Unicef report noted that the use of schools as polling centres during the 2018 parliamentary elections was one reason for the uptick in attacks.

Ms Henrietta Fore, Unicef's executive director, said that education in Afghanistan was "under fire", in a statement.

"The senseless attacks on schools; the killing, injury and abduction of teachers; and the threats against education are destroying the hopes and dreams of an entire generation of children," Ms Fore said in a statement.

 

More than one million children are unable to attend school across the country, according to the report, most of them girls.

Last month, in the western Farah province, armed men set fire to two girls' schools just outside the provincial capital, damaging both structures and burning the teaching materials within.

The attacks ended classes for nearly 1,700 girls. Four other girls' schools were also recently attacked in the province.

Before being ousted in 2001, the Taleban did not allow girls to attend school, and women were confined to their homes unless escorted by a male relative.

During the course of the nearly 18-year-old war, Taleban fighters would often booby-trap schools or burn them outright to keep them from reopening after Nato and Afghan forces established control over an area.

There are roughly 17,500 schools across Afghanistan. About 1,000 of them remain closed because of the ongoing conflict, according to the Unicef report, a number that is roughly unchanged from last year.