Thousands of Afghans displaced

2010-09-29 21:22

Kandahar - Hundreds of families have been displaced by fierce clashes in southern Afghanistan as Nato-led forces fight to eradicate the Taliban from the militants' heartland, officials said on Wednesday.

People are fleeing insurgent-infested districts around Kandahar as Afghan and US-led Nato forces step up military operations against the Taliban, said the director of Kandahar's refugee department, Mohammad Azim Nawabi.

"More than 900 families have arrived from Arghandab and Zhari districts to Kandahar city in the past month," Nawabi told AFP.

"People are still fleeing their villages and are in a very bad state when they arrive," he said, adding that many of the refugees were empty-handed.

More than 7 000 Nato and Afghan troops launched a major military offensive code-named Operation Dragon Strike around Kandahar city last week, said the commander of the foreign forces, US General David Petraeus.

Dragon Strike is the latest phase of Operation Hamkari - launched around five months ago - a last-ditch effort to eliminate the Taliban from Kandahar and the surrounding areas of Zhari, Panjwayi and Arghandab.

These areas had been "safe havens for the Taliban for over five years," Petraeus told AFP on Tuesday.

Lethal haunts

Nawabi said many of the displaced families were able to find accommodation with relatives living in Kandahar.

Others were being helped by local and international charities, as well as the Kandahar city and provincial authorities, he said.

Authorities put the average family size at five, but Afghan families are generally large and extended, encompassing three or four generations and many children.

Nawabi was not able to give an exact figure on the number of people fleeing the regions where fighting is fiercest.

The three areas - Arghandab, northwest of Kandahar city, and Panjwayi and Zhari to the west - have long been considered lethal Taliban haunts, mined with bombs that cause the overwhelming majority of deaths among foreign troops.

Clearing Kandahar of insurgents is seen as pivotal to the counter-insurgency strategy, which Petraeus described as a "comprehensive civil-military campaign".

It builds up to July 2011, which US President Barack Obama has laid down as the deadline for starting to draw down US troops - though both the president and the commander have recently emphasised that it is not a pull-out date.