Asia

Taliban conflict: Thousands flee as fighting threatens Helmand

A family at a checkpoint in Helmand province, fleeing intense battles between government troops and the Taliban Image copyright AFP
Image caption A family at a checkpoint in Helmand province, fleeing fierce battles between government troops and the Taliban

Thousands of people have fled intense fighting in Afghanistan's Helmand province, officials have told the BBC.

Most have sought refuge in the provincial capital Lashkar Gah which has been targeted by Taliban fighters for months.

The Afghan government has flown in special forces, repelling an attack on a district adjacent to the capital amidst heavy casualties.

The Taliban has staged many attacks across Afghanistan recently.

It has gained in strength since the bulk of British, American and other Nato forces left in 2014.

The head of the office for Internally Displaced Persons in Helmand, Naqibullah, told the BBC's Afghan service that 3,000 families from different districts had been forced from their homes by the recent fighting.

"They need food and other assistance," he said. "The World Food Programme has promised to assist 800 families, but their stocks are in Kandahar and the road between Kandahar and Helmand is blocked at the moment."

Lashkar Gah residents backed up his account.

"Every day dozens of families come from districts to Lashkar Gah," Abdel Jabar, a shopkeeper, said. "Not just me, everybody in the city is worried that it might fall into the hands of the Taliban."

Others say that with many routes into the city blocked or unsafe, food prices are going up as supplies dwindle and new arrivals add to the demand.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Officials say that thousands have been displaced in recent fighting
Image caption A busy day in Lashkar Gah earlier this year, but residents say prices are going up.

The authorities have firmly rejected suggestions that Lashkar Gah could fall, despite an attempt by insurgents to overrun the neighbouring district of Nawa on Wednesday.

Reports say that the attack was repulsed in the middle of the night.

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A spokesman for the Helmand Governor, Umar Zwak, told the BBC that 80 Taliban militants had been killed and injured in Nawa and another district, Nad Ali. The figures are impossible to verify independently.

There have been reports of US air strikes aiding Afghan forces in Helmand.

Nawa is strategically important as it almost touches the main bridge into Lashkar Gah and has been described as the back door to the city.

Officials insist that they will not allow the city to be taken by the Taliban.

The insurgents succeeded in overrunning the northern city of Kunduz last September, holding it for several days.

Image caption A slogan at the US operating base in Helmand, promising the province 'can't fall'
Image caption The Afghan Army has been involved in fierce fighting with the Taliban since the British left

British forces were stationed in Helmand province since 2006, but left two years ago when Nato ended its combat mission in Afghanistan.

Since then the insurgency has continued unabated, and the drugs trade fuelling it is still booming.

Most of the 456 British soldiers who lost their lives in Afghanistan were killed in the province.

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