KUNDUZ (Dispatches) – Fear has stalked Kunduz as residents prepared for a lengthy siege, with government forces patrolling the streets and Taliban militants surrounding the northern Afghan city.
The Taliban have held the city twice in recent years — both times briefly — but have now captured the surrounding districts and the main border crossing with Tajikistan.
“The Taliban have besieged our city,” said Qudratullah, a fruit seller who has done hardly any business since fighting first erupted in Kunduz province two weeks ago.
“Even today there is sporadic fighting on the outskirts of the city,” said Qudratullah, who like many Afghans uses only one name.
“If the government does not launch an operation against the Taliban, their siege will continue for a long time.”
Most businesses in Kunduz remained shut and vehicles stayed off the roads, an AFP correspondent who toured the city reported.
Dozens of military vehicles patrolled the streets as new government forces were deployed in the city of around 300,000, swelled by an influx of rural residents fleeing fighting in the districts.
Troops were seen firing sporadically at Taliban positions, and the bodies of two militants lay on the ground on the eastern edge of Kunduz.
The city’s public health director told AFP that since the fighting erupted a week ago, 21 civilians have been killed and 225 wounded.
Residents said they were suffering from water and power cuts, and few shops were open.
Intense fighting between Afghan government forces and Taliban militants killed about 30 civilians and left hundreds more injured over the past 72 hours in the northern province of Kunduz, local health officials say.
Media reports quoting Ehsanullah Fazli, head of Kunduz’s provincial hospital, said on Thursday that at least 28 bodies and 290 wounded civilians had been delivered to two local hospitals across the troubled region in the past three days.
He expected the death toll to rise in the ongoing fight in the coming days. “The war is still going on in the city of Kunduz and the death toll will rise,” he said.
According to hospital officials, the vast majority of the casualties have been children, women and elderly people.
U.S. President Joe Biden is scheduled to host a visiting Afghan government delegation at the Oval Office for talks about planned withdrawal of U.S.-led coalition forces from the war-ravaged country.
The high-ranking delegation led by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani also includes the head of Afghanistan’s National Reconciliation Council Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, Vice President Amrullah Saleh and Foreign Minister Hanif Atmar, among others.