KABUL: Thousands of Afghan civilians have fled the northern city of Kunduz to escape days of fighting between the Taliban and government forces, with dozens arriving daily in Kabul with little more than the clothes on their backs, recounting stories of horror.
The insurgents launched an assault on Kunduz on Monday, triggering intense fighting with Afghan forces backed by NATO and sending frightened residents fleeing to other cities including the capital.
Up to 10,000 civilians have fled Kunduz, the UN said Thursday, to escape fighting which was ongoing despite government claims that Afghan forces had retaken the city on Monday night.
Those who arrive in Kabul after a journey in an overcrowded taxi head for the lawn outside parliament, where their children were shivering in the dark late Thursday after their hasty departure.
Abdullah had left Kunduz in September 2015 after a previous attack on the strategic northern city close to the border with Tajikistan.
Mohammed also arrived with seven relatives. “The situation is terrible. We couldn’t even take clothes. There was a barrage of rockets, shelling,” he said.
The government on Monday said Afghan forces had repelled the assault but Taliban reinforcements had apparently arrived and fighting flared up even in the city center, according to Mohammed, who managed to leave on Wednesday morning.
“Kunduz is on fire!,” said one young woman in a burqa, Parmin, her voice shaking with indignation.
“The Taliban are there destroying and burning everything. There is a barrage of rockets and prices (of food) are rising. It’s total chaos,” she said.
“Everyone in town is trying to flee. The Taliban warned: ‘If you leave your home you will be shot’. They burned the homes of those who refused them shelter.”
A new convoy arrived as the night wore on. On the lawn outside parliament they are welcomed by Kunduz lawmaker Fatima Aziz. Mobile phone in hand, she takes hundreds of call from her constituents and negotiates a little support from compassionate businessmen to find shelter for the night and some food.
“It gets worse and worse every minute,” she said.
“The Taliban are taking up positions in every house, every street.
“People are still trapped there and suffering a food shortage, but there is not enough transportation, even when the people can afford to pay up to 15,000 afghanis, a life’s savings.”
A total of more than 1.2 million displaced people, including 270,000 just since the beginning of the year, swell the basic population of major cities including Kabul.