About 5,000 Afghan families have fled their homes in Kunduz after days of fighting between the Taliban fighters and government forces, officials said on Saturday, as the deadline looms for US-led troops to withdraw.
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.
“About 5,000 families have been displaced by the fighting,” Ghulam Sakhi Rasouli, director of the Kunduz Refugees and Repatriation Department, told AFP news agency.
He said up to 2,000 of those families 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.
Displaced families wait for help
Video footage taken by AFP showed dozens of people, many of them women and children, sitting inside tents set up in a school compound.
“We are six families living together here for three days … you can see my children are sitting on the ground,” Juma Khan, who fled with his family, said.
“We have still not received any help. A team came today to survey some families but after a few minutes they left,” said Akhtar Mohammad, who has also taken refuge in the school.
Another 8,000 families have been displaced across the province of Kunduz following a month of sporadic clashes between the armed group and government forces, Rasouli added.
He said authorities were unable to provide relief items to all the displaced families across the province.
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.
Fighting has raged across Kunduz province for days, with the Taliban and Afghan forces engaged in bloody battles.
On Tuesday the fighters captured Shir Khan Bandar, Afghanistan’s main border crossing with Tajikistan, in one of their most significant gains in recent months.
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.
Since early May, the Taliban has launched several major 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 Taliban’s claims are disputed by the government and difficult to independently verify.
May was the deadline for the US forces to withdraw from Afghanistan as part of an agreement between the Taliban and the US under former President Donald Trump signed in the Qatari capital, Doha, in February 2020.
Trump’s successor President Joe Biden extended the deadline to September 11, the 20th anniversary of the US invasion of Afghanistan following the attacks on New York and Washington, DC, by al-Qaeda.
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.
Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen has told Al Jazeera in an exclusive interview that the armed group has the “right to react” if the US keeps troops in Afghanistan after September 11.
“If they stay here, then I think it is a kind of continuation of the occupation. They have violated and we fully have the right to react,” Shaheen said.
The February deal also called for peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan leadership but it has remain deadlocked in Qatar.