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Taliban Infighting Displaces Thousands In Remote Afghan Region

The scantly reported fighting between Afghan and Pakistani militants in a remote district of eastern Afghanistan has forced thousands to flee their homes.

Locals say recent clashes between the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani militant faction Lashkar-e Islam have forced them to leave Naziyan, a mountainous district near Pakistan's border in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar.

Naziyan tribal leader Malak Suhail told Radio Mashaal that more than 1,500 families left the district in late April.

"People are forced to seek shelter in the nearby plains of the Margo Desert. Initially the militants only allowed women to leave, but later they allowed families to escape fighting in the region."

Shafiqullah, who like many Afghans goes by only one name, is one of the displaced Naziyan residents. He now lives in a tent in the scorching Margo Desert near the Pakistani border crossing of Torkham.

"People have suffered very badly. We were forced to leave our homes, schools, and crops," he said.

Shafiqullah blames the Afghan government for failing to address the fighting in Naziyan.

Saidullah Shinwari, another displaced Naziyan resident, is also disappointed with Kabul's response.

"We face a lot of problems. We don’t have clean water. Some people have developed mental problems because of the stress. Children, women, and elderly are suffering terribly," said Shinwari.

Clashes in Naziyan erupted last fall after Lashkar-e Islam militants fled to Afghanistan from a major Pakistani military offensive in the nearby Tirah region, a remote valley in Pakistan's northwestern Khyber tribal district.

Naziyan residents say Lashkar-e Islam leader Mangal Bagh and his followers continued attacking the Pakistani military and its local militant allies in Khyber from their new bases in Afghanistan. But the Afghan Taliban viewed the group as a rival, and demanded that it either submit to Afghan Taliban command or leave Afghanistan.

In retaliation, Lashkar-e Islam ordered Naziyan residents to leave and even ordered Afghan refugees from the region to leave its erstwhile Pakistani stronghold in Bara, a town in Khyber tribal district.

Their disagreements eventually erupted into clashes in April, with both sides trying to assert control over Naziyan, where the Afghan government's authority is tenuous.

Malik Timor, a tribal leader still living in Naziyan, told Radio Free Afghanistan that entire villages in the district are now empty in the aftermath of the fighting.

He said that despite the worsening situation in Naziyan, Kabul has yet to conduct a major military operation to secure the strategic border district.

But in recent days the Afghan government and international forces seem to be moving to reassert control over the region.

Afghan officials said that at least four militants were killed in a May 14 U.S. drone strike on the border area, while Pakistani officials put the figure at 10 or more. It is not clear whether the strike was targeting Afghan Taliban or Lashkar-e Islam fighters.

Lutfullah Mashaal, a spokesman for the Afghan intelligence service, told Radio Free Afghanistan that they have shared plenty of intelligence reports about the activities of domestic and foreign terrorists in the border areas with the Afghan security forces that are responsible for providing security in the region.

But Suhail is not optimistic.

"We’ve given up on all hopes that the government will deliver security. We will leave the valley and are doing everything to survive,” he said.