The United Nations says the number of war-displaced civilians in Afghanistan's Kunduz has reached 24,000 as fierce street battles continue between government forces and Taliban militants in the strategic northern city.
“Initial reports indicate that around 24,000 internally displaced persons” have fled Kunduz, the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a statement on Sunday, a week after the militant group stormed the city and occupied parts of it.
According to the statement, terrified inhabitants are increasingly fleeing blasts and gunfire to the neighboring provinces of Balkh, Takhar, Baghlan and the capital, Kabul. An earlier estimate by the UN had put the number of the displaced at 10,000.
“As assessments are ongoing and families are still on the move, this figure will almost certainly change,” the statement said. Some Afghan media, citing local officials, however, say more than 30,000 people have been displaced.
Since October 3, when Taliban militants managed to capture parts of the city in a full-scale assault, people have growingly faced a crippling lack of food and medicine.
According to Kunduz medical sources, so far at least three civilians have lost their lives and nearly 300 others have been injured. Local residents, however, claim that the actual toll is well beyond the announced figures.
Meanwhile, the Afghan Interior Ministry said key parts of the city, which briefly fell to Taliban last year, had been cleared, adding that 52 militants had been slain during the past 24 hours.
The government says the mop-up operation is being carefully carried out to prevent civilian casualties.
Kunduz lawmaker Fatima Aziz blamed the government in Kabul for its failure in protecting the city from Taliban.
"Kunduz is a tragedy caused by the government's failure to stop the Taliban from entering the city. If the senior officials of Kunduz had been held accountable last time, we wouldn't be facing this renewed crisis," Aziz said in an interview with the country’s TOLO television.
Assadullah Omarkhil, the governor of Kunduz, said in an interview with the same television on Sunday that General Murad Ali Murad, the deputy chief of staff of the Afghan armed forces, was to blame for the situation in Kunduz.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said in a televised statement that military reinforcements had reached the crisis-hit city, vowing that “the enemy will be defeated and punished.”
Taliban lost its grip over Afghanistan in 2001 after the US-led invasion and has since retreated to rural areas, resorting to hit-and-run attacks on cities.