Residents of the beleaguered southeastern Afghan city of Ghazni have warned of an impending humanitarian disaster as Afghan forces continued to battle the Taliban for the fourth consecutive day.
They say that a lack of security, health care, and diminishing food supplies are endangering tens of thousands of residents who are caught up in the fighting, which broke out on August 9. Hundreds of insurgents, soldiers, and civilians have been killed so far.
Fareed Takal, a Ghazni resident who escaped to Kabul on August 13, says healthcare services in the city have completely collapsed.
“For four days now, more than 100 bodies have been moved to Ghazni’s civilian hospital, where they are just lying around,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “Only one nurse is tending to more than 150 injured admitted to the same hospital. It is difficult to even feed all these people, let alone treat them.”
Ghazni, located halfway between the capital, Kabul, and the southern city of Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second city, is strategically located on the highway connecting the two. The historic city attracts visitors from across Afghanistan to the tombs of various Sufi saints dotting its landscape.
Hekmatullah, another Ghanzi resident who goes by one name only, says civilians are running out of food supplies and fighting has forced most of Ghazni’s markets to close. Several roads, including the main highway connecting Kabul to Kandahar, have been intermittently closed by fighting.
“If this government is capable, it should reach out to its people,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “Authorities should supply food and medicines. They should immediately open all the roads linking Ghazni and ensure that residents can freely move within the city.”
Backed by U.S. airpower, Afghan security forces continued to battle Taliban fighters inside Ghazni. The battle is a huge blow to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s attempt to negotiate peace with the Taliban. The fighting also overshadows planned parliamentary elections in October.
The UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) expressed concern over the deteriorating conditions in Ghazni.
“With fighting and clashes reportedly still ongoing, we have received initial reports of a number of civilian casualties and of people trying to reach safe areas outside of the city,” Richard Peeperkorn, acting Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan, said in an August 13 statement.
He said that with medication becoming scarce, it was difficult to treat casualties.
“Many families have reportedly taken shelter in their houses and are unable to leave their homes,” he said. “Vital telecommunications networks and the electricity supply are down in the city of 270,000 people, which has impacted the water supply, and food is also reportedly running low.”
In Kabul, Ahmad Jan Naeem, a deputy minister for public health, told Radio Free Afghanistan that although they have lost contact with the ministry staff and hospital in Ghazni, they believe the hospitals are still working.
Naeem said that, if needed, Kabul would seek assistance from the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Najib Aqa Fahim, Afghanistan’s disaster management and humanitarian affairs minister, vowed to assist Ghazni residents.
“We are on standby with supplies in the neighboring province of Wardak and here in Kabul,” he said. “Whenever we have the opportunity, we will dispatch these supplies.”
Meanwhile, late on August 13, Afghan Defense Minister Tariq Shah Bahrami told journalists that more than 1,000 new troops had been sent as reinforcements to Ghazni.
“I am confident we will have some positive news for our people during the next 24 hours,” he said.
With reporting by Radio Free Afghanistan correspondents Khan Mohammad Seend and Arzoo Ghiasi.