KUNAR -- President Ashraf Ghani flew to Mazar-e-Sharif on Wednesday (August 11) to rally forces stationed there amid news of horrors being committed by Taliban militants across the country.
Ghani held talks with Atta Muhammad Noor and Abdul Rashid Dostum about defending the city as Taliban fighters inched closer to its outskirts.
Hours before the president's arrival, pictures posted on official government social media accounts showed Dostum boarding a plane in Kabul en route to Mazar-e-Sharif, along with a contingent of commandos.
After arriving in the city, Dostum issued a warning to the approaching Taliban.
"The Taliban never learn from the past," he told reporters, vowing to kill the insurgents.
"The Taliban have come to the north several times, but they were always trapped. It is not easy for them to get out."
Mazar-e-Sharif saw some of the bloodiest fighting during the Taliban's scorched-earth rampage through the country in the 1990s, with rights groups accusing the insurgents of massacring up to 2,000 civilians -- mostly Shia Hazaras -- after capturing the city in 1998.
Afghan forces had the upper hand in the city, a linchpin for government control of the north, said Defence Ministry spokesman Fawad Aman.
Taliban bring 'terror and killing'
The increasing violence, particularly in Afghanistan's cities, has displaced more than 359,000 Afghans this year alone, the United Nations International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said Tuesday.
Thousands of families have been forced to abandon their homes and flee for safety after the Taliban seized Narai and Ghaziabad districts in Kunar province in late July.
While capturing the districts, the Taliban cut off residents' access to running water, blocked the Asadabad-Narai road with boulders and took over civilians' houses to use them as bunkers, residents told Salaam Times.
Some residents departed for the provincial capital Asadabad, while others fled to Nangarhar province.
Mohammad Akbar Khan, 50, a resident of Markazi village in Narai district, fled to Narang district along with six members of his family to escape fighting.
"When the Taliban came, terror and killing came with them," he said. "All of us were scared and thought they would kill us tomorrow -- if not today -- as we are pro-government and a lot of our people work for the government, including myself."
"We left in the evening, spent one night in Asmar, and then started moving again to reach safety," he said.
"The government has started helping us, giving us food, water and kitchen equipment," Khan said.
Niaz Bibi, a widow and mother of three, fled her home in Ghaziabad district to shelter in the Kotkay area of Narang district.
"Fighting intensified there, and we realised that the Taliban would not let us live in peace, so we left, and now the people and the government are helping us," she said.
Tales of Taliban brutality
Those who have fled the frontlines have brought tales of horror wrought by the hardline Islamist group, detailing reprisals against former government workers, summary executions, beheadings and kidnappings of girls for forced marriages.
"We saw bodies lying near the prison... there were dogs next to them," said Friba, 36, a widow who fled Kunduz Sunday with her six children as the Taliban took over.
Like many who spoke to AFP, she asked not to be fully identified for fear of reprisal.
Another evacuee from Kunduz, Abdulmanan, told AFP the Taliban beheaded his son.
"They took him... as if he was a sheep and cut off his head with a knife and threw it away," he said.
Shops in Kunduz's markets were left blackened and burnt out by the fighting between Afghan forces and the Taliban.
"The Taliban are hiding in people's houses in the area, and government forces are bombing them," said Haseeb, a Kunduz resident who lives near the airport.
Residents report similar horrors in other areas under Taliban control.
"The Taliban are beating and looting," said Rahima, who was camped out with hundreds of families at a park in Kabul after fleeing Sheberghan province.
"They forcibly take young girls or young widows from families," she said. "We fled to protect our honour."
'No one feels safe'
Around 9,000 families have been displaced from Narai and Ghaziabad districts as of August 5, said Abdul Rashid Safi, director of Kunar's Refugees and Repatriations Department.
"We have provided essential food and non-food items to 3,000 families in Kunar, and aid efforts are ongoing," he said.
"With the help of various international organisations, we are distributing tents, mattresses, kitchen kits and food for three months among families who do not have shelter," Safi said.
Displaced families from Narai and Ghaziabad districts have been resettled and the government will take immediate steps to recapture the two districts so that residents can return to their homes and schools and governmental organisations can resume their operations, said Kunar Governor Mohammad Iqbal Saeed.
Mohammad Rauf Khaksar fled to Asmar district, Kunar province, but said his father refuses to leave their home in Narai district.
"He says our house will be looted if he leaves," he said. "My parents are staying so that no one loots our house."
"Life has deteriorated with the arrival of the Taliban, and no one feels safe," Khaksar said.
"We want the government to take over soon so that we can return to our homes."
Sadia, 11, a resident of Narai district, fled to Kunar's provincial capital, Asadabad, with her mother, two brothers and a sister.
"I was a student at the Narai girls' school," she said. "Only a few days were left until the end of the school year. I was happy to take the final exams and go to fifth grade."
"But the fighting started, and we left on foot since there were no cars," she said.
"I want peace to return to my village and school," she added.
Gul Alam, a sixth-grader and a resident of the Jalala area of Ghaziabad district, said the Taliban have turned his school into their base.
He fears his school will be destroyed. "I don't want to be illiterate," he said.
The warring parties must not harm civilians. During the forty years of war in Afghanistan, most of the poor and destitute people have fallen victim to the wars, and every warring group tried to trample them. The situation of the displaced people of the recent wars is very deplorable. The Afghan government and the international community must provide humanitarian aids to them as soon as possible.Reply
Everyone who came in this country oppressed the poor and destitute people of Afghanistan.Reply
In fact, during the past twenty years, instead of working and building the bases of the government and the system, most of our statesmen, especially members of the former Northern Alliance gave priority to filling their pockets and bank accounts. When $50 million was coming from the Western countries, less than $50 thousands of it was being spent, and the rest was being looted. One cannot say how much good the Taliban are in building the system, because from one side they are puppets of Pakistan, and all their thinking is controlled by Pakistan, and on the other side, the source of their thoughts is the limited environment of religions seminaries, and they think that the country is also like a mosque or seminary, so one cannot expect more from them. As an Afgahn, I ask all involved sides to keep, President Ghani – who is an elder and honorable person, save him from humiliation in the race of power, because the situation shows that the government structures all over the country may collapse in the near future. All, especially the Taliban who have begun fighting should avoid more destruction in the country. All sides should sit together and work for building the country and the government system.Reply
The Taliban have no other job except to cause destruction and to harm the people. Pakistan has trained the Taliban as its dogs, and the Taliban obey Pakistan’s every instruction, without analyzing and thinking about it, and without using their brains, and they ruin their country and people’s lives based on Pakistan’s orders. Curses on people’s enemies and curse on Pakistan.Reply