ISLAMABAD - An International relief agency says the Taliban has forced them to close dozens of clinics in an embattled central - eastern region of Afghanistan, depriving hundreds of thousands of people, particularly women and children, of receiving medical treatment and health services.
The Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (SCA) said in a statement issued Wednesday the insurgents' action in the Wardak province had stemmed from last week's deadly attack by Afghan security forces against one of the agency's health clinics. It noted that the condemnable raid killed four people, including SCA doctors, and one employee is still missing.
"The Taliban forced SCA to close 42 out of 77 health facilities in six out of nine districts of Wardak province so far, and due to this closure, an estimated number of over 5,700 patients are affected on daily basis," the aid agency lamented.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid justified their action, alleging the July 8th raid against the SCA hospital was jointly conducted by American and Afghan forces. He told VOA the relief agency's health units have come under regular attack by pro-government forces but the SCA has not effectively protested nor has the Swedish government taken up the issue with Americans or the international community.
"On the request of an association of local clinics, doctors and paramedical staff in Wardak, we have contacted Sweden and urged them to take immediate steps to protect their health facilities as well as staff working on them. Until then, we have told SCA to close their clinics," Mujahid said.
"If they (Sweden) fail to act accordingly, we (Taliban) will approach and seek help from other international charity organizations to take charge of these clinics to ensure the people in Wardak continue to receive medical treatment and health services," he added.
The SCA country director, Sonny Mansson, denounced the insurgent move as an obvious violation of human rights and international humanitarian law.
"We demand immediate reopening of all health facilities for the people and we strongly urge all parties involved in conflict to refrain from such actions which deliberately puts civilian lives at risk", he added.
The SCA had just days after the raid against its health clinic strongly condemned it as a serious violation of international humanitarian law and demanded an independent international investigation into the incident. The agency, however, had exclusively blamed Afghan forces for conducting the deadly raid.
Last week's attack on the hospital was the second in three years. In 2016, security forces had raided the facility and dragged out two hospital patients along with their 15-year-old caretaker and later displayed their bodies.
The SCA operates in rural Afghanistan, including Taliban-controlled areas, with approximately 6,000 local staff around the country.