More than 22,000 Afghan families have fled their homes to escape the fighting in the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, officials said Sunday, as authorities arrested four suspected militants during the rocket attack on Kabul this week.
Since early May, violence has escalated in several provinces including Kandahar after rebels launched a sweeping offensive just days after US-led foreign forces began their final withdrawal.
The deadly Taliban attack saw the insurgents take control of dozens of districts and border crossings and besiege many provincial capitals.
“The fighting displaced 22,000 families last month in Kandahar,” Dost Muhammad Diriab, head of the refugee department in the province, told AFP.
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“They have all moved from troubled areas of the city to safer areas.”
Fighting continued on Sunday in the outskirts of Kandahar city.
“The negligence of some security forces, especially the police, has opened the way for the Taliban to come close to this,” Kandahar deputy governor Lalay Dastagiri told AFP.
We are now trying to organize our security forces.”
The local authorities have set up four camps for the displaced, with an estimated number of 154,000 people.
Hafiz Muhammad Akbar, a resident of Kandahar, said his house was taken over by the Taliban after he fled.
They forced us to leave… I am now living with my family of 20 in a compound with no toilet.
Fighting fears to increase
Residents expressed fears that fighting could increase in the coming days.
“If they really want to fight, they should go to the desert and fight, not destroy the city,” said Khan Muhammad, who moved to the camp with his family.
“Even if they win, they cannot rule a ghost town.”
Kandahar, with a population of 650,000, is the second largest city in Afghanistan after Kabul.
The southern province was the center of the Taliban regime when they ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001.
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After being pushed out of power in a US-led invasion in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks, the Taliban spearheaded a bloody insurgency that continues to this day.
Its most recent offensive, in early May, saw the group take control of half of the country’s nearly 400 provinces.
Earlier this week, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, said the Taliban appeared to have “strategic momentum” on the battlefield.
But Human Rights Watch said there were reports that the Taliban had committed atrocities against civilians in the areas they captured, including the town of Spin Boldak near the border with Pakistan that they seized earlier this month.
Patricia Grossman, associate director of the Asia division at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement:
Taliban leaders have denied responsibility for any abuses, but mounting evidence of expulsions, arbitrary detention, and killings in areas under their control raises concerns among residents.
Meanwhile, the authorities announced that they had arrested four men who said they belonged to the Taliban, accusing them of carrying out this week’s rocket attack on Kabul.
“Momen, the Taliban commander, and his three other men have been arrested. All of them belong to the Taliban,” ministry spokesman Mirwais Stanikzai told reporters in a video message.
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At least three rockets landed near the palace on Tuesday as President Ashraf Ghani and his top officials performed Friday prayers to mark the start of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.
The Islamic State jihadist group claimed responsibility for the attack.