KUNDUZ -- Members of the Taliban robbed residents and burned down their homes in villages in Sancharak District, Sar-e-Pul Province, as a reprisal for their co-operation with the government, according to local residents and security officials.
Dozens of houses in Taghari Khwaja, Tewar and Khider villages as well as other parts of the district were set ablaze on February 28, residents say.
The Taliban set fire to the houses using heavy weapons such as mortars and rocket-propelled grenades, Mohammad Salim Tariq, 42, one of the inhabitants of Taghari Khwaja village, told Salaam Times.
"The Taliban first took refuge in our homes, and then they fought with government forces," Tariq said.
"The Taliban forced all of [the residents] out of their homes and told them that... they couldn't take their belongings with them. Most of them are very poor, and they lost everything they had," he said.
'Residents have lost everything'
"After the Taliban set fire to our homes and destroyed some, we had to move out in order to save our children," Saeedullah Saadi, 36, one of the residents of Khider village, told Salaam Times. "None of the families could take even a pair of clothes with them. They lost everything they had at home."
"What have we done to be driven of our homes in this cold winter with our children, women and the elderly?" Saadi asked.
Some of the expelled families are staying in the Sancharak District centre with relatives or in rented housing, said Mohammad Noor Rahmani, chairman of the Sar-e-Pul provincial council.
Some of them have left for the provincial capital, Sar-e-Pul where they live in poverty, he added.
"As a result of the fighting, residents have lost everything they possessed," Rahmani told Salaam Times.
"This year, about 5,000 residents have been expelled from Taghari Khwaja, Tewar, Khider, Ghuzar-e-Gawdum, Langar, Tabat and other villages of Sancharak District," and 1,500 of them "have moved to the capital of Sar-e-Pul Province and the rest have gone to neighbouring provinces", he said.
"The affected families have many problems, and the government must make necessary arrangements for their return," he added.
Ground operations under way
The Afghan National Army, National Police, National Directorate of Security and local police are carrying out a joint operation called Walid 38 in vulnerable areas of Sancharak District, according to provincial authorities.
Seven Taliban fighters were killed and nine others injured in recent battles between security forces and the Taliban in the Doaba area of Sancharak District, said the 209th Shaheen Corps press office March 2.
However, the Taliban's tactic of taking refuge in civilians' homes is slowing down operations, Zabiullah Amani, spokesman for the Sar-e-Pul governor, told Salaam Times.
"The Taliban use civilians as human shields," he said. "They sheltered in the houses of civilians and of members of local uprising groups. Then they set 40 houses on fire. This is really a crime against humanity."
"It is the eighth day of our ground operations," he said. "We are hopeful that at the end of these operations, better security will return to the area. The local government working to arrange the return of these families, who are living in grave conditions."