At least 5,000 families have fled their homes in Afghanistan’s Kunduz Province after days of fighting between Taliban and government forces, officials said on Saturday.
Heavy fighting has also been reported in the provinces of Kandahar and Baghlan, where the Afghan forces claimed to have retaken areas from Taliban control but the armed group still held on to parts of Pul-e-Khumri area in central Baghlan, according to local media.
The Taliban has taken control of dozens of districts since US-led NATO foreign forces started their final withdrawal in May.
The Afghan group, which has been waging an armed rebellion since it was toppled from power in a 2001 US-led invasion, continues to surround Kunduz city.
The Taliban briefly seized the city twice in recent years but has now captured the surrounding districts and a nearby border crossing with Tajikistan.
Ghulam Sakhi Rasouli, director of the Kunduz Refugees and Repatriation Department, told AFP news agency about 5,000 families had been displaced by the fighting, up to 2,000 of which had fled to Kabul and other provinces.
Many people took refuge in a school in the city and had been provided with food and other relief items, Kunduz provincial council member Ghulam Rabbani said.
Kunduz city’s public health director Ehsanullah Fazli said that since the fighting erupted more than a week ago, 29 civilians have been killed and 225 wounded
The Taliban has released videos showing them in possession of US-made humvees and Afghan police and military equipment after seizing control of multiple districts.
‘SEIZED 90 DISTRICTS’
Since early May, the Taliban has launched several bloody offensives targeting government forces across the rugged countryside and says it has seized nearly 90 of the country’s more than 400 districts.
However, many of the armed group’s claims are disputed by the government.
In response to the recent increases in fighting and the Taliban’s concerted efforts to take as much territory as possible, the Afghan government has started to arm local residents across the country to join in the fight against the Taliban.
“The security forces cannot be in every village all the time, but the Taliban want to be in every corner of the country, so arming the people to protect their own lands is an important step in resecuring the county,” Khan Agha Rezayee, an MP from Kabul said.
Rezayee said as insecurity in the north, especially districts near provincial capitals, increased, the need for such forces also went up.
“Major cities are now under threat, so people have to stand up and defend their lands.”
Violence surged after the US military began the withdrawal of its last remaining 2,500 troops from the country to meet the September 11 deadline announced by President Biden to end America’s longest war.
Amid the rising violence, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani visited Washington last week to meet with Biden, who pledged US support to Afghanistan but said Afghans must decide their own future.
Ghani acknowledged the escalating Taliban violence but said the country’s security forces were retaking districts from rebel control. “There have been reverses. We acknowledge it. But the key now is stabilisation and ensuring that the defence of the republic is all-sided,” Ghani said.