The Taliban forced a Swedish non-profit group to close 42 health facilities it runs in eastern Afghanistan, the organization said Wednesday, the latest attempt by the insurgents to show strength amid negotiations to end the country’s nearly 18-year war.
The Taliban currently control nearly half of Afghanistan and are more powerful than at any time since the October 2001 U.S.-led invasion.
According to Parwiz Ahmad Faizi, communications manager at the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, the facilities were closed after Afghan forces last week raided a clinic run by the NGO in Daimirdad district in Maidan Wardan province.
The Afghan troops, acting on intelligence, were allegedly looking for suspected Taliban fighters hiding in the clinic.
Ahmad Khalid Fahim, program director for the Swedish group, told The Associated Press that two staff members, a guard and a lab worker, and two other people were killed in the attack, while a fifth person has been missing.
Insurgents contacted the staff and ordered the NGO to shut down, Fahim added. Faizi said the closures will affect health services for around 6,000 patients, particularly women and children.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed the closure of the facilities.
The same Swedish-run facility in Daimirdad was hit in 2016, in a joint raid by Afghan and foreign forces, said Fahim. Three people were killed in that attack, after which the NGO demanded an investigation but no probe results were ever released.
“We request the Afghan government give us an immediate response as to why the health facility came under attack,” Fahim said.
The Swedish organization, which has been in Afghanistan over 30 years, runs 77 health facilities in six out of nine districts of in Maidan Wardan. The closure of the 42 likely more than slashes its activities in half.
In Sweden, Sonny Mansson, the country director for Afghanistan, told the AP that the Taliban threatened the staff by saying that if they do not close the facilities, “it would have consequences for themselves and their families.”
“We treat equally anyone who needs medical care regardless of who they are. Everyone who needs help gets it,” Mansson said, adding that the closed facilities were in a Taliban-controlled area while others are still open in government-controlled areas in the province.
He dismissed claims the Taliban had used their clinic in Daimirdad as shelter, which may have triggered the Afghan forces’ raid.
Mansson said the organization informed the Afghan government of the closures but that the authorities have done little beyond acknowledging the shutdowns and saying “we regret it happen.”
“But we have not seen anything from them,” he added.