KABUL (Reuters) – The Taliban have been carrying out extensive house searches around the Afghan capital, according to residents, a policy the group’s spokesman said was to detect criminal activity but that some Western diplomats said had targeted ordinary citizens.
Taliban administration spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the searches were part of a “clearing operation” and that houses were only raided if there was a specific report of possible criminal activity.
“The operation is not against just anyone, it is against kidnappers, professional thieves and crime groups,” he said at a news conference on Sunday.
Authorities seized weapons in the raids, which also led to the arrest of dozens of criminals and six members of the Islamic State militant group, Mujahid said.
Reuters spoke to seven residents around Kabul, whose names are not being published for security reasons, who said the searches appeared indiscriminate and were spreading fear.
One resident in north-west Kabul said he was expecting the Taliban to visit on Monday, meaning his father had to stay home from work to accompany the female members of the family.
“We are not happy…I don’t want them to enter our house, I don’t want them to see my sisters, I don’t want them to search my clothing cabinet and my documents. I don’t want them to disturb my mother,” he said.
Another Kabul resident visited by Taliban officials said they had been disrespectful by not following a tradition of removing footwear when going into a home.
“They have entered our house with their shoes, they went everywhere,” the person said.
The ambassadors for the European Union and Germany also criticized the operation.
“Concerned about reports of house searches, intimidation, violence against ‘criminals’ in and around Kabul,” said Markus Potzel, Germany’s designate ambassador to Afghanistan, in a Tweet on Monday. “As it turns out, this mostly affected ordinary citizens.”
Since the Islamist group took over the country in August, observers have warned of emerging signs of a crack-down on dissent and reprisals against former security force members and activists.
Fears for the safety of vocal opponents of the Taliban and prominent women have risen since the Islamist group took over the country with international agencies and governments expressing alarm over the disappearance of several female activists in recent months.
The Taliban denies targeted reprisals and says it is investigating reports of violence and disappearances.
A spokesman for the Taliban commander for Kabul said that as a “military operation” their police were permitted to wear shoes, that only female police would search women’s items and that religious representatives from the area would accompany the police during the search.
Mujahid said on Sunday they would investigate any cases of reported ‘misbehaviour.’
European Union Ambassador Andreas von Brandt said house searches should stop immediately.
“Despite Putin’s war we are watching you,” he said in a tweet, referring to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
(Reporting by Kabul Newsroom; Writing by Charlotte Greenfield; editing by Frank Jack Daniel)