Mohammad Sadeq returned to his home on the outskirts of Kandahar city this week to discover it had new occupants – the Taliban.
“They didn’t even allow me to enter,” he told the AFP news agency on Tuesday at a camp for displaced people (IDPs) inside Afghanistan’s second-biggest city.
Sadeq is one of tens of thousands of Afghans recently uprooted by the fighting between the Taliban and government forces, which has intensified as the last foreign troops complete their withdrawal after a 20-year occupation.
This week, thousands have made their way by car, bus, truck and on foot to Kandahar – preferring an uncertain future in a basic city camp to braving the fighting.
Local officials said more than 150,000 had arrived just this month.
“I lost two sons in an explosion just in front of my house,” said Bibi Aisha, another IDP now living on the grounds of a government centre for Hajj pilgrims near Kandahar airport.
“The streets in my neighbourhood were full of human flesh,” she said.
Humanitarian organisations warn of a major crisis in the coming months as the Taliban continues a sweeping offensive that has so far gobbled up a vast swath of the north.
Government forces have abandoned some rural districts without a fight, but are digging in to defend provincial capitals, including Kandahar.
Kandahar is the birthplace of the Taliban, from where the group rose to power in 1996 before controlling most of the country by 2001, when US-led forces invaded.
The fall of the city would be a disaster for the government, splitting the country in two before winter, when retaking lost territory is particularly difficult.