Taliban Prisoners of War

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A Taliban POW in Do-Ab camp in Panjshir Valley. September 2001

Afghanistan’s civil war was responsible for the existence of tens of thousands of prisoners captured by the two major parties to the conflict, the Taliban and the Northern Alliance.

One of the POW camps maintained by the Northern Alliance was located at Do-Ab, which literally means “two rivers, or waters”, on an island in the heart of the Panjshir Valley. At the time of my visit to the area in September 2001, the camp was home to several hundred Taliban fighters, most of whom had been held there for more than five years.

Taliban prisoners of war in Do-Ab camp in the Panjshir Valley. 2001.

Yet they all were determined to take up arms and fight again on the side of the Taliban for a truly Islamic Afghanistan, if released. Conditions in the camp did not seem too awful, although cells were pretty crowded; guards were friendly with the inmates and food was no different from what prison wardens themselves ate: pilau. In fact, journalists in the Panjshir Valley treated themselves to that same dish every day. Not because they liked it, but because there was almost nothing else available: it was war time.

One of the most notorious POW detention centers was located in the town of Sheberghan (Shebargan) in Jowzjan Province, 120 kilometers west of Mazar-e-Sharif. The prison was controlled by the Uzbek militia under the command of the powerful warlord, Gen. Rashid Dostum. In February 2002, the facility was hugely overcrowded, with well over three thousand inmates, of which about two thousand were so-called local Taliban, i.e. Afghans, and the rest were foreign, mostly Pakistani, fighters. They all were held in three huge blocks. Conditions were appalling and the inmates dreamed of being taken to Cuba where the U.S. military were conducting their investigation at the Guantanamo Bay detention center.

The POW detention center in the town of Sheberghan (Shebargan) in Jowzjan Province, 120 kilometers west of Mazar-e-Sharif. 2002.
Former Taliban fighters take a shower and wash clothes in a metal container set up on the territory of the Sheberghan (Shebargan) camp. February 2002.
Cooking food in one of the most notorious POW detention centers in the town of Sheberghan (Shebargan) in Jowzjan Province, 120 kilometers west of Mazar-e-Sharif. 2002.
These three men and other inmates of the Taloqan prison said they were local farmers who had been inducted by the Taliban to fight on their side. November 2001.
Two Taliban fighters held as POWs by the Northern Alliance. 2001.