PAN, May 26, 2010

400 families flee Helmand towns

Residents complain the security situation has further deteriorated in the wake of Operation Mushtarak.

Zainullah Stanikzai

LASHKARGAH: Hundreds of families, fearing the resumption of clashes between Taliban and security forces, have fled troubled districts of Marja and Nad Ali in southern Helmand province.

US Marine break the door of a house in Marja
A U.S. Marine breaks the door of a house to search for weapons during an operation in the town of Marjah, in Nad Ali district of Helmand province February 16, 2010. (Photo: Reuters)

The fresh exodus of 400 families from the towns comes nearly three months after a massive counterinsurgency operation, involving thousands of Afghan and foreign troops.

While concluding the offensive, the troops said the districts had been cleared of the Taliban militants, allowing thousands of families to return to their homes.

However, residents complain the security situation has further deteriorated in the wake of Operation Mushtarak. The people say they do not venture out of their houses to avoid being attacked by the fighters and security forces.

"We are under threat from the Taliban for cooperating with foreign troops," said Haji Aminullah, a Marja resident. He added they had never confronted such a situation over the past 30 years.

"We have trenches around us, set up by the rebels and foreign troops. As a result, we are confined to our homes," he said. The resident also grumbled about parched crops that could not be watered.

Another resident, Sahib Khan, who recently arrived in Lashkargah from Marja, said innocent people were being killed in clashes on a daily basis.

"Taliban are asking us why we are working on projects, funded by foreigners or the Afghan government," he said, accusing the fighters of carrying out attacks on troops from their houses. "In retaliation, international soldiers hit our houses."

An official of the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) accused the militants of attacking troops from civilian houses. Speaking to Pajhwok Afghan News on the condition of anonymity, he alleged foreign troops had also been targeting civilian houses.

He went on to blame the NATO soldiers for failing to protect ordinary citizens during operations against militants. "Under these circumstances, a large number of families have fled their houses, migrating to Lashkargah," the official said.

ARCS provincial head Dr. Ahmadullah also confirmed the arrival of fresh families in the provincial capital. "We have registered 256 such families," he revealed.

The official explained most of the displaced families had been living with their relatives and a new call had been issued to the international community for assistance.

An official responsible for refugee affairs in the province, Haji Ghulam Farooq Noorzai, said 10 families arrived daily in Lashkargah. Linking the displacement to frequent clashes, bomb blasts, search operations and threats from the Taliban, he said they had so far registered 379 families.

The American troops based in the region had distributed cards to local people to distinguish them from the Taliban, he said. But the guerrillas have warned the people against accepting the cards.

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