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General Scott Miller, head of the US forces in Afghanistan, warned the peace process is hanging on a knife-edge amid an increase in terror attacks and fighting. Children told how they have been chased by dogs, shot at and left freezing in the mountains used by smugglers to sneak people into Iran and Turkey. Many told how they shiver through the nights sleeping on construction sites, and the Daily Express has reported how some youngsters were tortured by the Iranian authorities who deliberately sprayed them with water before turning the fans on.
Soldiers on the Turkish border even gave the bodies of the dead to the people smugglers to prove they were prepared to kill.
One child said: “In smuggling, they value their dog more than the people being smuggled.”
The head of the US forces in Afghanistan warned on Wednesday that Taliban violence this winter has been much higher this year – prompting fears of a major offensive from the militant group over the coming weeks and months.
Experts have warned greater instability will push more young people into making the perilous journey across the border.
War Child UK – which the Daily Express has partnered with for the Torn From Home campaign – said donations of £10 would buy a school textbook for two children, £15 would provide 15 children with a hot meal, £17 would cover the reunification costs once a child is found at the border and £30 would give families emergency cash assistance for a month.
Charity bosses insisted improving access to education and local job opportunities would prevent many young people from making the journey to Iran.
Zabihullah, 13, felt exhausted and was sick from spending many nights out in the cold.
He said: “Nowadays, in smuggling, they value their dog more than the people being smuggled.
“My life before I left was good, but I had no other choice. Once, 3-4 people hired my rickshaw and then threatened me with pistol and handgun to leave my rickshaw. I said I am leaving my rickshaw. At last, they stabbed me twice and took my rickshaw. The people there had taken me to the hospital.”
During his journey to Iran, Zabihullah said four people were killed on the border with Iran.
He said: “As we moved, they put light on us, they were waiting for us and knew that people were coming at this time.
“They shouted on us to wait, but people ran even faster. Then they fired and everyone escaped to a different direction.
“At this night, the [soldiers] killed 4 people. We kept running towards Turkey and then the soldiers blocked our way. The guides hid us behind some rocks, and they themselves disappeared.
“Two of them [killed] were Afghans, and two were smugglers of cigarettes. Along with us, they were also smuggling cigarettes to Turkey. The cigarettes are much expensive in Turkey.
“The women and children had stopped and surrendered themselves as soon as they had heard the firing. The soldiers had given the dead bodies to the families and had told the families to tell the smugglers that we are not joking, we will shoot.
“Then they unleashed the dogs.
“The dogs didn’t catch those who had good stamina and ran faster. The smugglers had told us to wait somewhere, and we were there until the morning.”
Ahmad, 15, said: “When I was in Iran, I missed my mother, father and family and wanted to be with them.
“The room was on the 2nd floor and had no windows and door.
“During the night it was very cold. We had no blanket. The work was also hard. It was disastrous.
“I wish my country to be in peace, and I wish there is no war and destruction in my country. I want to become a doctor and to serve my people.
“Coronavirus has drastically affected everything.”
After a challenging journey through the mountains, with no food or water for two days, 11-year-old Jawad reached Iran.
He ended up sleeping on a construction site, where his uncle was working. Cold and vulnerable, and without the money he needed to support himself, he was desperate to go home and see his family.
He said: “Winter has arrived and every family has bought blankets and prepared for the winter, but we are unable to buy anything.”
Kabul has seen a series of attacks with small magnetic bombs attached under vehicles and targeted killings in recent weeks against security forces, officials, judges, civil society activists and journalists.
Gunmen killed two Afghan policemen in eastern parts of the capital on Wednesday.
General Scott Miller, the head of U.S. forces and the NATO-led non-combat Resolute Support mission, said: “Taliban violence is much higher than historical norm.
“It just doesn’t create the conditions to move forward in what is hopefully a historic turning point for Afghanistan.”
Typically fighting lulls during the snowy winter months before the Taliban launch a “spring offensive” around March.
But General Miller fears an intense period of fighting is about to break out.
He added: “If the violence isn’t reduced, it’s going to make a peace process very, very difficult; it would be very difficult for any side to make the necessary compromises.”
The Afghan government has instructed security forces to carry out a comprehensive troop restructuring and design operations to prepare for a “tough and hard” spring offensive.
An Afghan National Security Council spokesman said they were “ready for any kind of war”, though they remained in “active defence” mode.
A tribal elder from Kunduz province said: “In the past two weeks the topics Taliban preachers preach, especially on Friday prayers… have changed.
“They preach about… fighting against invasion, and they openly invite people to join them. It’s a clear message that they are preparing for another fight this spring.”
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