PUL E KHUMRI, AFGHANISTAN —
Afghan security forces remain on high alert on the highways surrounding Kunduz, holding only tenuous control of the region a week after Taliban extremists were driven from the northern city after days of fierce fighting.
In Pul e Khumri, a virtual ghost town two weeks ago, the bazaar is once more open and full of activity, but residents remain nervous and wary of talking to strangers.
Residents and police report frequent Taliban activity in the area 100 kilometers south of Kunduz, and even security forces dare not venture off the road in several places.
Further north toward Kunduz, the highway is traveled by locals but considered too dangerous for foreigners or journalists, with Taliban activists emerging unexpectedly to set up illegal checkpoints in several areas, according to residents.
Police said the most dangerous area on the Kunduz road is called Dand e Shahbadeen.
A VOA reporting team that drove from Kabul to Baghlan last week was told that between 100 and 200 Taliban attacked a police checkpoint at the northern end of Pul e Khumri earlier in the week.
Locals said they had feared that police did not have enough ammunition to counter a determined Taliban assault.
However, members of the local police insisted they are up to any challenge, telling VOA they are ready to “fight to the last drop of our blood.”
Their resolve has already been tested.
In Dooshi, south of Pul e Khumri on the road from Kabul, travelers still can see signs of the fierce gunfights after the Taliban staged their surprise attack on Kunduz late last month.
While the VOA team encountered no violence on the drive from Kabul on Friday, Afghan media have reported several incidents in the region.
The two-hour drive from Pul e Khumri to Kunduz is considered very risky, as the Taliban in the area have been known to set up illegal check points on the road.
The Afghan news website Pajhwok reported that 11 militants and two policemen were killed in separate instances in recent days in Kunduz, Badakhshan, and Baghlan provinces. It said another 14 policemen have disappeared.