Reuters International

Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers fire a mortar round at Taliban positions during a battle with Taliban in Kunduz provice, Afghanistan October 8, 2016. REUTERS/Nasir Wakif


By Mirwais Harooni

KABUL (Reuters) - Parmi fled the fighting in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz with 13 members of her family this week, in shock at how quickly the city's defences had collapsed to the Taliban.

Now in Kabul, she speaks bitterly of the failure of the government to protect the city, a year on from the last time it was overrun by the Islamist militants.

"There is blood and dead bodies everywhere in Kunduz. Our young people are dying and the government hasn't done anything for us," she said, in the hotel she has been staying since Thursday with scores of other refugees from Kunduz.

Her comments, and similar accounts from others, who speak of a blacked-out city running out of food, water and medicine, underline the despair of Kunduz residents and the anger building up against the government of President Ashraf Ghani.

Parmi, 42, who like many Afghans goes by only one name, managed to escape with her family, putting a chain on the door of their house and leaving with only the clothes they were wearing after artillery and mortar fire hit their neighbourhood.

"We had to crawl out of the area; there were bullets everywhere. We left home empty-handed, now my clothes are dirty and I have nothing to wear," she said but added that she and her family were relatively lucky.

"Anyone who doesn't have money is left there under threat of mortars and gunfire," she said.

Special forces units, backed by American advisers and air strikes, have been battling to drive Taliban fighters from the city which the insurgents entered unexpectedly at the start of the week, and fighting continues in many areas.

Following widespread reports of security forces abandoning their positions, poor coordination and rivalries among commanders, there has been heavy criticism that the government failed to learn from last year, when the Taliban seized and held the city for two weeks before pulling out.

"Even as the security situation got bad, we didn't believe Kunduz would collapse," said Shogofa Bahar, a medical assistant who fled the city for Kabul this week. "But the situation got worse and worse."


The United Nations said on Thursday that as many as 10,000 refugees had arrived in Kabul and northern towns including Taloqan and Mazar-i-Sharif.

But Kunduz is only one of the many hotspots that have flared in the past few weeks, with heavy fighting seen in Lashkar Gah, capital of the southern province of Helmand, Farah in the west, Baghlan in the north and Nangarhar in the east.

Afghanistan already has more than 1.2 million internal refugees, with some 260,000 forced to flee their homes across the country this year as the fighting has continued.

In Takhar, the neighbouring province to Kunduz, Sunatullah Timor, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said 5,000 families had been registered with authorities but their arrival was putting pressure on local food prices.

Hundreds of families have also arrived in Baghlan but many had moved on to safer areas because of the fighting.

Aid agencies and government authorities have been providing assistance to the latest arrivals from Kunduz but there has also been help from other sources, including private citizens.

Hikmatullah Shadman, a businessman from the southern city of Kandahar, has paid for food and shelter for Parmi and the other families staying in her hotel and is ready to provide more, according to Hassib Naser, an aide.

"He wants to show to Afghans and the world that we Afghans are the same," Naser said.

However, with winter approaching, most of the Kunduz refugees are keen to return home as soon as possible.

"Most people in Kunduz are poor and can't start living in other parts of the country," said Shogofa Bahar. "As soon as it becomes calm they will go back to their homes."

(Writing by James Mackenzie; editing by Mark Heinrich)


 Reuters International