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Thousands of families flee fighting in southern Afghan province

Afghan refugees (EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid/Flickr)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

An Afghan official says thousands of families have been forced to flee fighting in the southern province of Helmand, an area that has become a battleground between Taliban militants and government forces.

Mohammad Ramin, head of the province’s refugee office, told RFE/RL on October 13 that most of the more than 5,000 families that left were relocated to the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah.

“It’s serious. So far, only the women’s department has given us a market [to shelter those displaced] and the residents have started providing them with food aid, but no other institution has worked to deliver the aid so far,” he said, adding that the number of families was growing.

Allaudin is among those who took refuge in Lashkar Gah, where he said the situation “is getting worse every hour.”

“Fear is rampant in the city. The surrounding areas are in the hands of the Taliban. They are coming closer,” he told RFE/RL.

Gulbadin said he moved to the city the night before.

“We spent the whole night in the truck. There is no food and clean water,” he said.

Government forces have been resisting militant attacks on the outskirts of the city over the past days.

“The Afghan forces retreated from some areas to avoid casualties to the security forces and civilians,” dpa quoted a local official as saying. “Now, the operation is ongoing to retake those places.”

Local officials said Afghan special forces with air support launched an operation in the area overnight and that at least 23 Taliban fighters were killed, according to Tolo News.

The fighting comes as Afghan government representatives and Taliban negotiators hold peace talks in Qatar.

The negotiations are meant to end Afghanistan’s decades-long long war, following a deal signed by the United States and the Taliban in the Qatari capital in February.

On October 12, the U.S. military in Afghanistan said it had carried out air strikes in support of Afghan security forces under attack in Helmand Province over the previous two days.

“The Taliban need to immediately stop their offensive actions in Helmand Province and reduce their violence around the country,” a spokesman tweeted, quoting General Scott Miller, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

“It is not consistent with the U.S.-Taliban agreement and undermines the ongoing Afghan Peace Talks.”

Under the February deal, foreign forces are to leave Afghanistan by May in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban.

On October 12, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Afghanistan reported that Lashkar Gah’s “Trauma Hospital was overwhelmed and MSF teams in nearby Boost Provincial Hospital are supporting the over-flow of patients.”

Twenty people injured in the fighting had been admitted to the Boost Provincial Hospital, the charity said.