As the battle for a strategic city in northern Afghanistan entered its third day, civilians are fleeing Kunduz, and those trapped in the fighting complain of deteriorating conditions in the city.
While reliable figures were difficult to establish, tens of thousands of residents are believed to have fled Kunduz on October 5. A sizeable part of its estimated 300,000 residents are still confined to their homes and face worsening conditions.
Kunduz, the capital of the northeastern province also called Kunduz, close to Afghanistan’s northern border with Tajikistan, has been the scene of intense fighting between government troops and the Taliban insurgents who breached the city’s defenses on October 3.
The brief capture by the Taliban last year left nearly 300 people dead and forced tens of thousands to leave the city, according to the UN.
Hamid Ullah, a resident of Kunduz’s third district, says the sudden Taliban infiltration has led to the city being shut down since October 3.
He says conditions similar to last year’s fighting in the city have created an immediate shortage of crucial supplies.
“If this situation continues for a few more days, we might face more acute shortages of food, fuel, and medicine,” he says.
Asadullah, another Kunduz resident, said he feels trapped in the city after living through three days of sporadic fighting, which suddenly engulfed the city.
“I feel like we are imprisoned inside our house. We are just counting the hours and hoping for God’s help,” he said.
The prices of all essential items have skyrocketed as most shopkeepers have either fled the city or are staying indoors to keep safe.
A housewife in Ali Abad district, considered the gateway to Kunduz city, said she is worried about keeping her four children alive through the fighting.
“Yesterday [on October 3,] two children in our streets were killed in a rocket attack,” she said over telephone late on October 4 while requesting not to be named. “We just buried them in our neighborhood mosque because it was not possible to take them to the graveyard.”
She says electricity cuts have made it difficult for her family to keep up with the latest news about fighting in their surroundings. She is now dependent on family and friends to keep abreast of the latest developments by telephone.
Amruddin Wali, a member of the Kunduz provincial council, says most residents feel trapped in their homes.
“Kunduz is undergoing a tremendous tragedy. Fires are raging in various markets, gas stations, and even the city’s main electric grid,” he said.
Wali said that days into the fighting, people have lost all sense of ease and security.
“They don’t have electricity or water as food supplies dwindle,” he said. “They are worried about their lives and their honor.”
Kunduz provincial Governor Asadullah Amarkhel however, says most civilians in the provincial capital have fled into neighboring districts or provinces.
"There is no electricity, no water, and no food. Many shops are closed," he said.
The government, however, says it is doing all it can to regain control of Kunduz.
“Most of the city is now controlled by tour forces,” said Kunduz provincial spokesman Mahmood Danish. “We have responded to all threats and have defeated the enemy. We hope conditions will soon improve for residents.”
Horia Mosadiq, a researcher with Amnesty International Afghanistan, says the continued fighting in Kunduz could result in a humanitarian disaster.
“Both the Afghan government and insurgent forces are responsible for making sure that civilians are not harmed and that they can access health care, electricity, and food,” she said.
-- With reporting by Reuters