KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban has issued a new code of conduct ordering fighters to protect civilians — as long as they don't side with the Afghan government or NATO coalition. If they do, the punishment is death.
The 69-page directive, obtained Tuesday by the Associated Press in southern Afghanistan, follows an acceleration in Taliban attacks on Afghan officials — a campaign that threatens the NATO goal of bolstering local government to help turn back the insurgents.
"The Taliban must treat civilians according to Islamic norms and morality to win over the hearts and minds of the people," says the code, which the insurgents began distributing about a week ago.
On the other hand, the code makes clear that civilians who work with foreign troops or the Afghan government are fair game. "They are supporters of the infidels" and can be killed, the code says.
The code updates a similar directive released a year ago that limited the use of suicide bombers and mandated that prisoners cannot be harmed or ransomed without the approval of a Taliban regional commander. NATO and Afghan officials criticized last year's code as propaganda and insisted it does not reflect how the Taliban really fight.
Analysts familiar with the Taliban said last year's code was more of a political statement than a military textbook, meant to counter the international coalition's own attempts at winning hearts and minds. The U.N. has reported that about 70 percent of the civilian casualties are due to the Taliban, mostly people being killed or wounded in suicide attacks and roadside bombs.
The new code confirms what is becoming increasingly apparent: The ranks of Afghanistan's civil servants are under siege.
Roadside bombs are planted on their routes. Ominous letters threaten their families. Taliban on motorbikes shoot them in the streets.
An average of three government officials have been attacked or killed every month so far this year, according to a tally by the Associated Press based on police reports. Attacks have occurred in about a dozen of the 35 provinces. Many more incidents are believed to have gone unreported.