As Afghan security forces backed by US airpower continue to battle Taliban fighters in the eastern city of Ghazni, hundreds of civilians have been displaced with little means to survive.
Fighting raged for a fifth-straight day on Tuesday following the brazen attack by the armed group that threatens the control of the strategic city, about 150km south of the capital, Kabul.
While information has been scarce, an estimated 400 people have been killed so far, including about 150 civilians, according the UN and the Afghan ministry of defence.
“When the fighting intensified, we knew we would die if we didn’t leave our home to travel to Kabul,” Ghazni resident Yassan Yassan, 21, told Al Jazeera, adding the Taliban had cut electricity and water supplies across the city.
Recalling the violence, Yassan said: “I witnessed a rocket landing on a group of people attempting to escape. All of them died.”
She also said the Taliban set government buildings on fire and blocked several areas including the Kabul-Kandahar highway.
“We had to pass through dangerous areas to get to Kabul, we witnessed the worst clashes between the Taliban and security forces,” said Yassan.
The UN’s Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said between 130 and 150 civilians have reportedly been killed, but those figures remained unconfirmed.
Sanela Bajrambasic, a representative of International Committee of the Red Cross, told Al Jazeera from Geneva that the situation deteriorated very fast.
“It is a sad reality and it is leaving deep wounds on [Ghazni’s residents],” she said. “We have been focused on helping the local hospital. As of today, we are also trying to help collect bodies and to transport them back to their families.”
Mohammad Rahim, a resident of Ghazni, fled the city along with his wife and three children when the Taliban managed to get on the roof of their house to position themselves for the battle.
“When we begged them to not harm us. They said ‘we cannot save you, it is up to you whether you want to leave or stay’. We had no option but to leave,” he said
“Now we are living at my relatives house in Kabul who are very poor, they cannot even feed us. I don’t know what to do.”
Conflicting statements about the fighting emerged on Tuesday with a Taliban spokesman saying the battle was ongoing, and government officials claiming otherwise.
“Afghan security forces have pushed back the Taliban from Ghazni city and the search operation is ongoing,” Nasir Ahmad Faqiri, a provincial council member, told Al Jazeera.
“Security forces are now fighting the Taliban in the outskirts of the city.”
The fall of Ghazni, a key route linking Kabul to the southern provinces, demonstrated the Taliban’s strength after an unprecedented truce in June during Eid al–Fitr, which brought fighting to a brief stop.
“Our houses are destroyed and burned down, we cannot go back to Ghazni, we won’t survive there,” Rahim said.
The Taliban have not taken a major provincial city since they overran the northern city of Kunduz in 2015.
Meanwhile, the Taliban overran a military base known as Camp Chinaya in northern Faryab province on Monday, killing 17 soldiers and wounding 19 others.
The base housed 140 Afghan troops who resisted the Taliban attack but failed when they didn’t receive any reinforcements.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said 57 Afghan soldiers surrendered and eight military Humvees were also seized.
The increased violence comes amid the hope of talks to end the 17-year-old war in the country, and speculation of a possible ceasefire during the Eid al-Adha holiday a few weeks away.
Afghan security forces have struggled against the Taliban since US-led NATO troops ended their combat mission in December 2014.