Afghan schools under seige: How classrooms became bunkers

Since the 2001 U.S.-led military intervention in Afghanistan, Western countries have invested heavily in education there. But as security across the country deteriorates, schools in many places are under threat, not only from resurgent Taliban forces but also from the very Afghan security forces that are mandated to protect them.

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Increasingly, the country’s national forces are using schools—many of them constructed by foreign donors and often the only concrete-reinforced, multi-story buildings in smaller villages—as their military bases during offensives into Taliban-held areas. Even if the buildings remain unscathed, the military occupation interrupts children’s education. But all too often, the schools become battlegrounds as the Taliban counter-attacks government positions, leaving the buildings damaged or in ruins and denying children an education until they can be rebuilt, if ever.

In 2015, the United Nations mission in Afghanistan documented 20 cases in which government security forces and armed opposition groups occupied schools for military purposes. During a brief research mission in April, Human Rights Watch identified 11 schools that were under occupation and being used for military purposes in just one small area of the Baghlan province alone, suggesting that the problem is underreported and getting worse. An investigation by the Guardian newspaper in April uncovered two British-built schools in Helmand province being used as Afghan army bases, including one in which students were still attending school on a lower floor.

An Afghan policeman stands guard at the entrance of a local school sponsored by Japan's International Cooperation Agency in Kandahar City May 11, 2010.