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Report Criticizes Military Use of Schools in Afghanistan

Afghan children hold the holy Koran as they go to a madrasa (religious school) in Dand Ghori district in Baghlan province, Afghanistan, March 15, 2016.

Afghan children hold the holy Koran as they go to a madrasa (religious school) in Dand Ghori district in Baghlan province, Afghanistan, March 15, 2016.

A new report says that state security forces in Afghanistan are using schools in Taliban-held areas for combat missions.

These actions, the report says, do not just interfere with children's education.

Often, the schools become battlegrounds, leaving schools damaged or destroyed. Students and teachers are put in danger, too.

Human Rights Watch, in a report released this week, demanded that the government take steps to stop putting schools at the center of the fighting. Keeping schools out of harm's way, the report says, is one way to protect the gains that the education sector has made in Afghanistan since 2001.

Military activity in Baghlan Province

The report focused on the military activities of Afghan security forces in the northern Baghlan province. This area has had intense fighting over the past year in and around its capital city, said Patricia Gossman, the senior Afghanistan researcher at the New York-based organization.

Gossman explained that Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 20 teachers and school administrators, in addition to local families affected by the conflict, for the report. She noted the number of times in which Afghan soldiers occupied schools was "quite shocking."

Taliban insurgents, too, have used schools in Baghlan to launch attacks. In one such case, Taliban forces occupied a Swedish government-financed school soon after it opened in 2015, the report says.

In early 2016, government forces attacked the Taliban forces. The Taliban forces escaped, but the fighting destroyed the school.

Afghan government challenges Human Rights Watch report

Dawlat Waziri is an Afghan Defense Ministry spokesperson. He rejected the report, saying the government's investigations have not found violations.

"However, we do not rule out the possibility of use of schools by security forces for an hour, or a couple of days, in instances when these facilities were closed for vacations, or in areas where operations were underway against insurgents," Waziri told VOA.

Impact on education sector

Gossman said that she is particularly concerned about the impact on girls' education.

"We had situations where even tent schools were being used by the military. And obviously, the other concern is that this has a disproportionate effect on girls' education because if you have got a bunch of armed men in a school, families are going to be particularly reluctant to send their girls to school."

Education is one of the few success stories in Afghanistan since the end of Taliban rule in 2001. At that time, less than a million children – all boys – were going to school. Since then, the number of children in school has risen to 9.5 million. About 40 percent of students are girls.

The future of the security situation in Baghlan

The security situation in Baghlan continues to grow worse. The Taliban have advanced in a number of areas and recently captured a key district just a few kilometers from the provincial capital.

The Afghanistan Analysts' Network is pessimistic about the future of the security situation in Baghlan. It notes that the recently captured district was the first to fall in Baghlan province since 2001.

I'm John Russell.

VOA's Ayaz Gul reported this story from Islamabad. John Russell adapted it for Learning English. Jill Robbins was the editor.

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Words in This Story

combat mission – n. a specific military or naval task that involves active fighting

sector – n. a sociological, economic, or political subdivision of society

disproportionate - adj. having or showing a difference that is not fair, reasonable, or expected

reluctant – adj. feeling or showing doubt about doing something

pessimistic – adj. having or showing a lack of hope for the future

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