Afghan government forces have largely regained control of the provincial capital of Kunduz from the Taliban, and the UN now expects the almost 40,000 residents who fled during the past week of fighting to begin returning home.
Taliban fighters launched an assault on the city on 3 October, one day before the start of a major international conference in Brussels, where donors pledged $15.2 billion in aid to Afghanistan over the next four years.
The latest fighting in Kunduz city displaced more than 39,000 people, mostly to neighbouring provinces, the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, said in a 12 October situation report.
“If the security situation remains calm IDPs [internally displaced people] are likely to return in significant numbers”, the OCHA report said. But, the organisation added, “clashes are reported in districts just beyond the city limits."
Homes, shops and infrastructure were damaged in the violence. Electricity remains cut off in the city, while water was restored yesterday and some shops had reopened.
Many IDPs fled on foot with “very little other than the clothes on their backs”, OCHA spokeswoman Danielle Moylan told IRIN today.
Some were staying with relatives or in rented accommodation, she said, while others had spent their first night in the open before being located by aid groups that quickly built temporary camps and distributed blankets, meals, water and medical assistance.
Inside the city, Kunduz Regional Hospital received about 300 casualties, mostly civilians, and the building sustained shelling damage, Moylan said.
“We received reports that some civilians were unable to reach the hospital due to fighting,” she added. “We are also aware that some patients decided to leave the hospital before completing treatment in fear that the hospital could be attacked.”
Such fears may have been well grounded.
A hospital run by Médecins Sans Frontières was destroyed by a United States airstrike just over a year ago as the US provided air support to Afghan troops and US Army Special Forces who were fighting to wrest control of Kunduz back from the Taliban, which had briefly taken over the city.
The MSF hospital remains a charred reminder of the 42 people who died in that attack.
Moylan said the destruction of the MSF facility “caused a huge gap in trauma services in the region."
The World Health Organization subsequently supported construction of a trauma unit at the regional hospital to boost capacity, and during this week’s fighting WHO sent supplies and a three person medical team from Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, to help deal with the crisis.
This week also saw militants attack two Shia mosques as worshippers were gathered to mark the religious festival of Ashura. Shia Muslims comprise about 15 percent of Afghanistan’s approximately 30 million people, who are otherwise almost all Sunni, and the religious minority has long been subject to attacks by groups including the Taliban.
So-called Islamic State claimed responsibility for the 11 October attack in which gunmen stormed a mosque in Kabul, killing 19. An unknown group detonated a bomb in the Khojagholak area of the northern province of Balkh the following day, killing at least 10 people and injuring 36, according to the UN Mission in Afghanistan.
(TOP PHOTO: Afghan security forces. CREDIT: Catherine James)