Kunduz residents recall ordeal after Taliban attack

Mass exodus of civilians from northern Afghan province puts strain on neighbouring hospitals with many wounded.

Ahmad and his daughter wait outside a hospital in Kabul as his wife receives treatment [Angela Corrias/Al Jazeera]

Kabul, Afghanistan – On the second day of the Taliban’s major offensive in Kunduz on October 4, Ahmad Zia and his family were out shopping, when his wife and their youngest child, Morsal, were hit by shell fragments, injuring them in multiple parts of their bodies.

“When we heard the gunshots, we did not pay particular attention, because we could not believe the city could be taken by the Taliban so easily again,” Ahmad, a fruit vendor from the northern Afghan city, told Al Jazeera.

With the city under attack, access to the nearest hospital in Kunduz was impossible. So Ahmad decided to rush his wife and their daughter, Morsal, to the neighbouring province of Takhar to seek medical help. Alongside, they brought their six other children to join family members already living there.

But armed Taliban fighters blocked the highway leading to Takhar, preventing anyone to pass through the checkpoint. The Taliban fighters were also trying to block supplies to the Afghan military.

Fearing that his wife and child would bleed to death, Ahmad decided to bring them to Kabul instead. But he had to make the hard decision of leaving the rest of the children in Kunduz.

“I tried my luck, and put my wife and child in a rickshaw. I took them through villages and country roads until we reached the Kunduz-Kabul highway, where we could rent a car,” he said. Ahmad had to pay $300 for the car.

On the way to Kabul, police officers spotted and brought Ahmad’s family to the Kunduz airport, where the army provided first aid to his wife and child and put them on a plane to the capital, 335km south.

Ahmad and his family were among the 30,000 civilians forced out of Kunduz to other parts of northern Afghanistan after the Taliban launched an offensive earlier this month to take over the province, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said, warning of yet another impending displacement crisis from the fighting.

Sayed Mahmoud Danish, spokesman for the governor of Kunduz province, recently told the Azadi radio station that as many as 40,000 families were affected in the latest fighting, including those who decided to stay.

At least 1,000 families arrived in Kabul from Kunduz in the past two weeks. Thousands of others have fled to Takhar, Baghlan and Balkh, while the rest sought shelter in other parts of Kunduz.

Ahmad’s six other children eventually escaped to Takhar after the road from Kunduz reopened. He said all of his neighbours also left.

“The Taliban fighters are using our homes as shields,” Ahmad said, adding his house was destroyed by a rocket right after his family fled.

READ MORE: Taliban fire forces doctors to flee Kunduz

“Everybody has run away. Only those families who have sheep and goats decided to keep one member in Kunduz to look after their flock. But everyone else abandoned their homes,” Ahmad told Al Jazeera as he sat at a park outside an emergency hospital in Kabul, where his wife was still being treated.

Ahmad’s daughter slept soundly in his arms as he told Al Jazeera of his family’s ordeal. She has since recovered from her wounds caused by four shell fragments that lodged themselves into her head and back.

These days, emergency hospitals in both Kabul and Lashkar Gar, capital city of Helmand province, are constantly running out of beds and can admit only cases with the most life-threatening injuries, sending the others on to local clinics.

Another Kunduz resident asked why the Afghan military only started fighting the Taliban when they reached the Kunduz city centre.

“My nephew was wounded by a gunshot during the fight between Taliban and government forces,” he told Al Jazeera outside a hospital in Kabul.

“We the citizens are caught up in between. The Taliban have even seized our homes and are fighting from there. Markets were destroyed, shops abandoned and looted by street criminals.”

Many patients at the Kabul emergency hospital visited by Al Jazeera came from different cities across Afghanistan that have also been attacked by the Taliban in recent months.

Abdul Karim, 9, lost a leg after a rocket hit his house in the Ghizab district of Oruzgan province. The same rocket killed his seven-year-old brother. Abdul was still in shock, sitting quietly with a traumatised stare.

Abdul Karim, 9, lost a leg after a rocket hit his house in Oruzgan province [Angela Corrias/Al Jazeera]
Abdul Karim, 9, lost a leg after a rocket hit his house in Oruzgan province [Angela Corrias/Al Jazeera]

“First we went to a clinic in Daykundi province where they treated Abdul Karim’s father, mother and aunt. But they couldn’t do anything for him because of his critical condition,” his uncle, Abdul Ahad, told Al Jazeera.

“We could have saved his leg if we had gotten here earlier.”

OPINION: Kunduz did not happen overnight

Aside from Kunduz, Taliban fighters have also made attempts to wrest control of other provincial capitals, from Helmand in the south, to Baghlan in the north and Farah in the west. But Afghan forces have managed to repel the attacks.

On Tuesday, Taliban fighters captured the district of Ghormach in the northwestern Faryab province. And on Wednesday, at least 14 civilians were killed in the northern Balkh province during attacks on ceremonies commemorating the Shia-Muslim holiday of Ashoura.

There has also been reported fighting between government forces and fighters who have declared allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) in eastern Nangarhar province.

Back at the hospital in Kabul, Ahmad said while he “feels blessed” that his wife and daughter received medical help, he is worried about the future.

“When my wife is discharged, we will need to figure out whether to go back to Kunduz or not since we have nothing left there,” he said.

Thousands flee fighting in Afghanistan’s Kunduz

Source: Al Jazeera