After face-to-face interviews with 13 detainees who were freed from a Taliban detention facility by Afghan special forces troops on 25 April, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan expressed deep concerns that the Islamist insurgent group is using its prisoners as slave labourers and bomb makers.

The UN mission said the freed prisoners were held underground and forced to work at seven hours a day, including “making improvised explosive devices” for the Taliban that were used against Afghan and international coalition forces. Their report also said that the detainees were regularly held in sub-zero temperatures during winter and were forced to live on single rations of beans or bread and were repeatedly denied medical assistance or access to international aid groups, including the Red Crescent.

The head of UN mission in Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamoto, who is also the UN Special Representative in Kabul, reiterated the mission’s concerns, saying, “I am gravely concerned about these serious allegations of ill-treatment, torture and unlawful killing of civilians and security personnel, as well as the deplorable conditions of detention”.

The mission’s human rights chief, Richard Bennett, reminded Taliban leaders that “international humanitarian law, which is applicable to international and non-international armed conflicts, provides that every individual who does not take direct part in hostilities, or who have ceased to do so, must always be treated humanely”.

The UN’s statement also included quoted the detainees as saying that the Taliban killed some of their captives “permanently shackled” all of those who were held in captivity.

“They provided consistent accounts of the poor conditions in which they were held and credible claims of ill-treatment and torture, as well as the murder of civilians and security personnel. Multiple detainees reported the murder of at least 11 others by the Taliban,” the UN’s mission in Afghanistan said.

The Taliban are a mostly ethnic Pashtun, Sunni fundamentalist movement that ruled Afghanistan from 1996-2001 following the decade-long Soviet occupation of the 1980s. After emerging as the main power base in most of the country following the devasting 1992-1996 Afghan Civil War, the Taliban, which was backed heavily by neighbouring Pakistan’s intelligence service – the ISI – ruled over most of the country through a radical form of Sharia law that was condemned internationally and resulted in the brutal treatment of many Afghans, especially women, as well as Afghanistan’s numerous sectarian and ethnic minorities.

During their rule, the Taliban and their allies committed dozens of massacres against Afghan civilians, regularly impounded UN food supplies that were intended for starving communities and conducted scorched earth policy that included burning vast areas of fertile land and destroying tens of thousands of homes while at the same time cultivating the world’s largest opium trade.

The Taliban became infamous for giving sanctuary to Salafist terror groups and provided shelter to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, who later played a major role in the Taliban’s domestic policies while also planning dozens of terror attacks around the world.

In 2001, only months before the 11 September attacks in the United States, the Taliban outraged the international community when it engaged in one of the worst acts of cultural genocide when it destroyed the famous 1500-year-old Buddhas of Bamiyan.

Since being ousted by an American-led military coalition shortly after 11 September,  the Taliban has slowly regained control over large swathes of Afghanistan and is now in a position to force the Afghan government into peace talks. The group’s leaders, however, refuse to negotiate directly with the internationally-recognised and democratically-elected Afghan Government of Ashraf Ghani.