Skip to comments.Taliban Looted and Vandalized a Panicked City When They Fled
Posted on 11/16/2001 1:19:44 PM PST by A.J.Armitage
KABUL They came to power five years ago as a highly disciplined movement aimed at cleansing society, opposed to corruption and faction infighting and committed to restoring security and imposing strict Islamic morals on this war-ravaged capital.
But when the Taliban left here under cover of darkness late Monday, their departure was marked by confusion, panic, looting and wanton vandalism. Taliban troops ransacked offices and stole vehicles. They marauded through currency exchange shops smashing open vaults and stealing cash. They looted the city's museum. In at least one military facility they left behind for the city's new conquerors debris-strewn offices with broken doors and locks.
"They destroyed all of the facilities here," said General Mohammed Sharif Tawasuli, commander of the Prophet Mohammed Division of the opposition Northern Alliance, whose troops moved into the city early Tuesday and took up positions at an old military school.
"They took whatever they could," he said. "Then they broke all the locks."
General Tawasuli and other Northern Alliance commanders also said the Taliban left behind a trove of documents, including passports, identity cards and training manuals, detailing the involvement of Pakistanis, Arabs, Chechens and other foreign "volunteer" fighters in helping prop up the Taliban regime.
They said the documents, written in Persian, Urdu and English, confirmed what Northern Alliance officials have long claimed - that thousands of foreign troops were integrated into the Taliban force and may have formed the core of the Taliban's frontline defense.
As Kabul residents Wednesday began to fully absorb the reality of the Taliban's sudden exit - with men shaving their once-mandatory beards and women showing their uncovered faces in public for the first time in five years - new details emerged of those final, panicked hours before the Taliban's ignominious predawn retreat.
In the city's currency exchange district, inside the main marketplace, Taliban troops raided some 80 shops, dealers said. They smashed the locks on metal grates, broke open safes, and stole an estimated $1.5 million, 10 million Pakistani rupees, and "tons of Afghanis," the local Afghan currency, said Fazil Ahmed, a currency dealer.
"We have some special safes, but they used their weapons to break the locks,' said Mr. Ahmed, whose shop was looted of $4,500 and 188 million afghanis (nearly $40,000). "It's not only me," he said, "it's everybody."
An official with a foreign relief agency said several aid groups reported that Taliban troops and officials had entered their compounds in the days before their exit confiscating vehicles. He said the Taliban often used excuses like faulty paperwork as the pretext for commandeering the cars.
Northern Alliance soldiers were also posted outside the Kabul city museum on Wednesday, where they reported that some antique artifacts had been looted before the Taliban's departure. The museum had only recently been repaired with foreign donor assistance.
Not all the Taliban got the apparently hasty message to evacuate. At Kabul's second district police station, General Abdul Wahid Sharifi produced for a reporter two Afghan Taliban soldiers he said were captured the night before with AK-47 assault rifles, hiding in a residential neighborhood and pretending to be Northern Alliance troops. He said the two, from Afghanistan's Southern border provinces near Pakistan, "didn't know there was an order to evacuate."
He said the police arrested a dozen Taliban stragglers Tuesday night, all armed, including one Pakistani, and that several carried military-style manuals printed in Pakistan and written in Urdu, Pakistan's dominant language.
During more than five weeks of punishing American air strikes, the Taliban also went to great lengths to try to conceal assets from the U.S. bomb attacks. In the Qowa-a-Markaz neighborhood, residents described how the Taliban moved dozens of vehicles into the yard of a private repair shop, hoping the vehicles would be missed by U.S. planes.
"They put their vehicles here," said Abdul Qodus, a security guard at the automobile lot. "This is a private place, so they thought their cars would be secure."
One person described how in their final hours, the Taliban used rocket grenades to destroy cars that were under repair or for some reason could not be moved.
After the Taliban left, some residents began looting in the early morning hours Tuesday. Some people described seeing women, children and old people looting food from warehouses and shops.
Northern Alliance officials have cited the breakdown of security and the threat of widespread chaos as the reason they broke a vow to the international community and sent in troops to secure government ministries, military installations, foreign embassy compounds and other key locations. The alliance had previously pledged to stop at the northernmost edge of Kabul and only send in police forces to maintain order.
On Wednesday heavily armed troops in camouflage as well as policemen in black uniforms seemed to be jointly taking responsibility for Kabul's security. Soldiers at main traffic intersections searched cars, while the police directed traffic from elevated pedestals at traffic circles.
Kabul residents have endured successive civil wars, including the Taliban's own relentless rocket barrage five years ago during which 866 rockets were fired into the city in a single month, April, 1996. So, while generally glad to see the Taliban gone, many here seemed anxious at the sight of a new Afghan army in the capital - particularly troops from the Northern Alliance, the disparate group whose earlier rule here from 1992 to 1996 was marred by brutal infighting.
"I don't know whether the alliance will be good people or not," said Haji Ismatullah, a money changer whose shop was looted by departing Taliban troops. "We've already experienced them."
"If there is support from the international community, we might have peace," he added. "But if there is no international support, we don't think they can bring peace."
The alliance on Wednesday made some moves to try to assuage the nervous populous. It announced that people who lost their jobs under the Taliban should return to their offices on Saturday and they would be rehired.
"I'm looking forward to Saturday," said Saraj Uddin, 28, a flight engineer who said he was fired by the Taliban because he once worked for "a Communist regime."
Some of Kabul's women, forced by the Taliban into the traditional long flowing burqas, were enjoying a new taste of freedom. In the Tahir Maskan neighborhood, a gritty area of highrise public housing apartments, a group of eight women stood talking and laughing with their faces fully exposed in the sunshine for the first time in five years.
"You can experience it yourself," said Karima Herat, who ran a girl's high school that was shut down by the Taliban. "Wear it yourself just for one hour, then remove it, and you will understand."
Northern Alliance officials and commanders say they are aware of the misgivings and suspicions but insist that they have learned from their mistakes. "The Taliban was promoted because of the fault of the Northern Alliance," said General Tawasuli, who was sitting in his new office, a partially destroyed room in the military school.
He said that when the Northern Alliance captured Kabul in 1992, "they started a lot of factional fighting. People blamed the government because they could not provide food or security. So they turned to the Taliban. The Taliban promised security and to bring Islam to Afghanistan."
"We've learned," he said. "We know that fighting is not the solution for our country."
It's just another good reason to kill them as they run. All of them.
What about the heroin poppies?
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