(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Some 2,000 displaced by fighting in Helmand

Many displaced families have set up tents and mud huts in the desert to get away from the conflict.
Masoud Popalzai/IRIN

About 2,000 people, mostly women and children, have left their homes in several parts of Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan, fleeing heavy fighting between Taliban insurgents and NATO-led forces.

"We left our home and immovable property in Ghezak [a village in Gherishk District of Helmand Province] because of growing armed conflicts," Mohammad Qasim, a displaced father of five, told IRIN in Gherishk.

Another family in Lashkargah, the provincial capital of Helmand Province, said they had left their village in Sangeen District after their house was destroyed in the fighting.

"I also lost my younger brother and my four-year-old daughter in the fighting," Abdul Samad, father of the displaced family of seven, said.

Assadullah Wafa, the governor of Helmand, said some families had been displaced by the clashes, but did not specify their numbers.

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Also, US forces in Afghanistan have confirmed the displacement of civilians from at least one location in the province.

"I watched hundreds of civilians walk out of the city unopposed," a US soldier who was part of a military operation against the insurgents in Nahr-e-Saraj District, was quoted as saying in a US military press release on 2 July.

Many displaced families have set up tents and mud huts in an arid desert in Gherishk District, to the north of Lashkargah - an area long affected by drought. Others have sought refuge in Lashkargah.

Advised to evacuate

Maj John Thomas, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), told IRIN that prior to a military operation international forces advised non-combatants, through local shuras (councils), to temporarily leave the area in order to avoid civilian casualties.

However, international forces operating under NATO in Afghanistan "will work to ensure that a local non-governmental organisation (NGO), the government or ISAF are aware of the [humanitarian] needs" that arise after their military engagements, Thomas told IRIN in Kabul on 9 July.

The Afghan authorities, backed by international forces, blame Taliban insurgents for intentional attacks on civilians and for using them as human shields in their hit-and-run assaults.

"We have heard of civilians being threatened or coerced [by insurgents] to stay in an area they would like to flee from when there is a battle," said Thomas.

However, some internally displaced persons (IDPs) say they abandoned their villages either after intense aerial bombing, or because insurgents terrorised and oppressed them.

One displaced man, Ezatullah, said many people in Barakzai village of Gherishk District left the area after NATO planes bombed their homes.

In a statement on 27 June, ISAF - which has been mandated by the UN Security Council to assist the government of Afghanistan in establishing peace and stability in the war-torn country - tacitly, acknowledged that civilians had been harmed in its 21 June air strikes on the village.

"The senior ISAF commander [in Helmand] and the mayor of Gherishk met on 23 June to discuss the death of civilians in an air strike on 21 June and how to avoid civilian casualties in the future," said the statement.

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