Residents tell of suffering as battle for Kunduz rages

Families unable to bury dead and parents abandoned as army and Taliban fight for control of northern Afghan city.

Afghan special forces arrive for a battle with the Taliban in Kunduz city, northern Afghanistan
The Afghan interior ministry insists the army is in control of the area [Reuters]

As the Afghan army continued to attempt to push back Taliban fighters from Kunduz, Kareem Ahmadi, a 34-year-old resident of the northern city, mourned the death of his uncle.

“We are in pain. Nothing can bring him back,” said Ahmadi, whose uncle was shot dead in the heavy clashes between the two sides.

“He had gone to help our neighbours who lost three members of their family in the conflict. Who would have thought he would be killed on his way back home?”

According to Dr Wahidullah Maiyar, the spokesperson of the Afghan Ministry of Public Heath, local hospitals in Kunduz had received 60 dead bodies and more than 350 injured, who are now receiving medical treatment.

“But, this is a war zone and currently it is a challenge to identify bodies of civilians and Taliban fighters,” Maiyar told Al Jazeera.

“At the moment, we have limited doctors to attend the injured. We also have limited number of medical supplies, but we’ve got some doctors on board from Kabul and they are trying their best to treat the patients.”

Parents abandoned

Many residents fled from Kunduz and are now in the neighbouring province of Takhar, leaving behind their homes, and, for some, their families.

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“My parents are very old and could not travel with us in a congested car full of internally displaced people,” said Naeem khan, a 30-year-old Kunduz resident.

“My wife and four kids are now settled here [in Takhar]. I now have to go back to get my parents.”

Sayed Sarwar Hussaini, the spokesman for the Kunduz Province police, said: “We confirm that more than 150 Taliban have been killed in the clashes in Kunduz so far. Around 50 in Takhar and Baghlan as well.”

According to sources, Kunduz has still not been cleared and is partially under Taliban control.

“We are still in control of 60 percent of the city [Kunduz],” said Haji Mohammed, a Taliban commander. “We are ready to fight.”

However, Sediq Sediqqi, the interior ministry spokesman, strongly denied the claim and insisted Afghan forces were in control of the area.

“The area is clear. We have defeated the Taliban,” said Sediqqi. “We are now focusing on sweeping out the fighters hiding in residential areas among civilians.”

Taliban ‘death squads’

Amnesty International’s recent report on the conflict in Kunduz said mass murders, gang rapes and house-to-house searches were carried out by Taliban death squads while they had control of the city.

“The multiple credible reports of killings, rapes and other horrors meted out against the city’s residents must prompt the Afghan authorities to do more now to protect civilians, in particular in areas where more fighting appears imminent,” said Horia Mosadiq, Afghanistan researcher at Amnesty international in the report.

However, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told Al Jazeera that civilians were not harmed when the Taliban took over Kunduz.

“Our first priority is to bring in the Islamic law. Clear instructions were given to our Taliban commanders to not physically harm anyone or anything,” he said. “All these claim are baseless coming from our enemies.”

Ahmadi was unable to conduct a safe and dignified burial of his uncle for a day.

His uncle’s body was kept in their basement until they felt it was safe to step out.

“Very few people gathered to bury my uncle in a nearby graveyard. We had to do it quickly to make sure we were safe,” said Ahmadi, a waiter who earns $10 a week.

“Our life is very difficult at the moment. I am short of money, as I can’t go to work. My family consists of 10 people and they are all dependant on me.”

Taliban vow

Meanwhile, Mujahid vows to continue the Taliban’s fight to implement Islamic law across Afghanistan.

“If we retreat, it will be to prevent civilian casualties. However, we believe we are prepared to fight our enemies and bring back Islamic law,” he said.

Khan is hoping to have peace in the city when he returns from Takhar to meet his parents.

“I don’t know if my parents will be alive by the time I return back to Kunduz to bring them here [to Takhar]. I am just hoping they are [alive],” he said.

“We are suffering the most in this fight between the two [the Taliban and Afghan government].”

Source: Al Jazeera