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Residents Flee Taliban Assault in Northeast Afghan Province

FILE - Afghan National Army soldiers stand guard following weeks of heavy clashes to recapture the area from Taliban militants in Dahna-e-Ghori district, Baghlan province, Afghanistan, March 15, 2016. But Taliban fighters retook the district in early August.

A major Taliban attack has displaced hundreds of families in a northeastern Afghan province, local residents said.

Taliban militants launched a coordinated attack this week on the Baghlan-e-Markazi (Central Baghlan) district of Baghlan province.

“Taliban were less than a kilometer away from the center of the city,” Mohammad Khan, a Baghlan resident who was preparing to take his family to a safer place, told VOA on Thursday. “They have captured parts of the Old City.”

Taliban fighters had closed the highway between Baghlan and neighboring Kunduz province. Kunduz, which briefly fell to the Taliban last year, also has been under Taliban attack for the past few weeks.

A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said through his Twitter account on Friday that Taliban fighters were providing fierce resistance to Afghan forces in the district.

Baghlan Governor Abdul Sattar Barez claimed that the Taliban attack was repelled after army reinforcements arrived in the district. He told VOA that heavy casualties had been inflicted on the militants.

“Sixty-nine militants, including their commanders, have been killed in the army operations that took place in Baghlan-e-Markazi and Old Baghlan,” Barez told VOA. “Right now, the Baghlan-Kunduz and Mazar-Kabul highways are open,” said Barez, a claim denied by the Taliban spokesman. The Mazar-Kabul highway passes through Baghlan.

Local residents told VOA that heavy clashes were still going on in different vicinities of Baghlan city.

“Over a hundred army tanks have arrived in Baghlan and army personnel have taken positions in many parts of the city, but heavy clashes still continue,” Haji Malik, a local resident whose family has fled to the capital, Kabul, told VOA in a phone interview on Friday.

“Hundreds of families have been displaced. Many fled to Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif and Pul-e-Khumri," Malik said. “Those who could not afford to leave the district, they moved to safer places within the district.”

Lives disrupted

The weeklong clashes have disrupted people’s lives in Baghlan. “Everything is closed — markets, shops, offices, everything,” Malik said. “Schools have been closed since Monday.”

The Taliban has been active in Baghlan province. It overran the Dahna-e-Ghori district after staging a coordinated offensive last week. Its fighters reportedly seized weapons, including a long-range mortar cannon, as well as more than a dozen tanks from retreating Afghan forces, although authorities called the Afghan forces' move “a tactical retreat.”

“Taliban in Dahna-e-Ghori gave a tank and a pickup truck to fellow fighters in the Baghlan-e-Markazi district,” said Malik, adding that the militants in Baghlan and Kunduz coordinate and provide helping hands as needed.

Local residents in the provincial capital, Pul-e-Khumri, have criticized provincial government and security authorities for not providing adequate attention to the security situation in districts.

“No one has a strong commitment to fully carry out their responsibilities, and that’s why the militants are increasingly becoming stronger,” a local resident told VOA on Friday.

Many residents in Pul-e-Khumri who spoke to VOA said they feared that the militants might attack the provincial capital, which is just a few kilometers from Dahna-e-Ghori.