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Taliban's 'human shield' tactic ruins livelihoods in Kunduz

In the aftermath of the bloody clash between government forces and the insurgency in the northern province of Kunduz, thousands of residents have lost not only their agricultural yields, but also their homes.
12.08.2015  |  Kunduz

Two children and an elderly woman named Zarina sit under the shadow of a shawl, fanning themselves in the 48-degree Celsius heat of summertime Kunduz. The family fled to the capital from the Dubandi area of Chardara district of Kunduz province, and are living in the Duri Sar desert on the city's outskirts. “The Taliban dragged us out of our house,” says Zarina. “They came in the middle of the night and told us to get out. May God destroy them.”

In many villages, the Taliban awaken people in the middle of the night and evict them from their houses by force, barricading themselves inside. Government forces generally refrain from firing on civilians, so the Taliban often uses villagers as human shields.

Among those displaced is Ehsanullah, 36, who remains determined to return to his burned-out home. “I may die tomorrow, but I didn’t enjoy my life,” he says.

Together with his younger brother Asad, Ehsanullah says he spent 700,000 afghani to build a house for Asad and his future bride. With the house now in the hands of the Taliban, Asad says his prospects of marriage are minimal.

Saifur Rahman, from the village of Halqa Kol in of Chardara district, fled his poultry farm after the Taliban took over the village. Most roads have been blocked because of the fighting, so families travel downstream in makeshift boats. “I took out the children in the middle of the night and we went with the boat to the other side of the river, where my family almost drowned,” Safiur Rahman says. The Taliban ate half his chickens, he adds, and when local police forces took over the village, they ate the other half. “My farm was looted by both sides and I had loss of 200,000 afghani.”

Another village caught in the crossfire is Sarake Bala, where Afghan forces distributed pamphlets instructing residents to flee. Later, pro-government troops used their abandoned homes as barricades.

One of the soldiers, Sharafuddin from neighboring Badakhshan province, says the troops hole up in dwellings within 200 meters from the enemy. Sharafuddin, who says he has been fighting away from home for three months, says he is reluctant to fire on Taliban strongholds in the homes of civilians: “I miss my own house,” he says. “if someone opened fire on my house and destroyed it, it would bring me much misery.”

More than 10,000 families have been displaced in the last two months of fighting. Kunduz governor Mohammad Omar Sapai recently told journalists that an additional 2,000 families may be displaced in future military operations, adding that the aid agencies have been invited to assist afflicted civilians.

While many of the refugees have found shelter with relatives or in rented houses, thousands have lost both their homes and livelihoods. Refugee Affairs department head Abdul Salam Hashimi warned about the potential spread of disease among populations of homeless civilians. So far, aid agencies have distributed aid to some 2,000 families, he added.

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