Thousands Flee Homes as Fighting Intensifies in Afghanistan

This week, thousands of Afghan civilians were forced to flee their homes as fighting intensified between the Taliban and the Afghan government in northern Kunduz City. TheTaliban infiltrated the city early in the week, waging coordinated attacks against local security forces in nearly every neighborhood. Although the Afghan Air Force has retaliated in an attempt to regain control over an emboldened Taliban, about 5,000 families have already been displaced by the violent conflict. While some have fled to Kabul and other provinces, a majority of refugees remain in Kunduz due to precarious exit routes.

“People fleeing Kunduz have been forced to take a circuitous route through Samangan province to Mazar-e-Sharif, about 110km (68 miles) away to the southwest. The shorter road is unsafe and dotted with checkpoints and mines,” reported one journalist to Al Jazeera.

Many people have yet to receive government aid and relief items. Video footage released by Agence France-Presse (AFP) shows families seeking solace from the violence; what was, just a few days prior, a school, now serves as a compound housing make-shift tents for refugees. The violent conflict has displaced an already exacerbated population.

A new wave of the coronavirus threatens the health of the nation, while drought aggravates food. insecurity. UN News estimates that one-third of Afghans are facing emergency levels of food insecurity following an especially dry winter. In a statement to the Security Council, Special Representative and Head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) Deborah Lyons warned that the compounded effect of illness, food insecurity, and violent conflict may raise Afghanistan’s poverty rate from 50% to more than 70%. It is under these dire circumstances that both parties must immediately implement civilian protection measures, and ensure access to medical care and humanitarian assistance.

Because the Taliban’s escalation of violence corresponds with the impending September 11th deadline for the U.S. to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan, it is critical that NATO allies maintain peace efforts previously upheld by the U.S.. Specifically, it is essential that they follow through on their commitment to provide “transitional funding” and increased security measures for Kabul’s international airport, such that it can maintain operation and safely transport humanitarian aid workers. Additionally, NATO must begin training and financial support for the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces in order to curtail the nation’s current practice of arming civilians to fight against the Taliban. Ali M Latifi, a journalist for Al Jazeera, reports that as many as 30,000 local residents of the northern provinces have helped to secure the nation. Although these forces have been a vital component of the Afghan government’s military strategy, the cost to civilians is unsustainable.

This week’s attack on Kunduz city and displacement of thousands of Afghan civilians is but another milestone in a perilous war. Since the beginning of May, the Taliban has seized 50 of the nation’s 370 districts. The New York Times reports that, this month alone, 653 security forces and 186 civilians have been killed in Afghanistan—however, these statistics are inevitably incomplete as many local officials refuse to verify casualty information.

As U.S. troops prepare to depart, a cursory end to the so-called “forever war” threatens to reignite, rather than quell, violent conflict. If this is the case, thousands more will be forced to flee their homes in a nation that already has 2.5 million registered refugees. It is imperative, on the part of the U.S., to maintain peaceful negotiation with the Taliban by pursuing a conditions-based withdrawal deadline over a calendar-based one. Returning to dialogue with the Taliban is paramount to achieving enduring peace in Afghanistan. In the words of Ms. Lyons, “There is only one acceptable direction for Afghanistan – away from the battlefield and back to the negotiating table.”

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