Thursday, August 5, 1999 Published at 14:06 GMT 15:06 UK
World: South Asia
Terrified inhabitants forced to leave
Afghan families arrive in Kabul from further north
By Richard Galpin in the Shomali Valley
Within minutes of driving along the road out of Kabul, our car was surrounded by a large group of women and young children in a desperate state.
They begged us to help them, saying their men had been taken away and put in prison.
They were terrified they would now be taken to Jalalabad or Kandahar on their own.
There was one old man with them, who clung on to the side of the car as we tried to drive away. He said he was extremely concerned about what would happen to the women now.
Moved out to camps
On the outskirts of Kabul, we found evidence of the scale of the operation now underway - a line of buses commandeered by the Taleban waiting to drive up to the Shomali Valley to collect more civilians.
Many are being taken on to a camp in the eastern city of Jalalabad. At least 5,000 people have arrived there so far.
The northern half of the long fertile Shomali Valley was one of very few areas in Afghanistan still controlled by the opposition.
The population is regarded by the Taleban as being sympathetic to the veteran opposition commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, who is now facing a massive Taleban offensive aimed at eliminating his forces altogether.
No choice but to leave
The civilian population caught in the midst of this latest offensive seems to have been given no choice by the invading Taleban forces but to abandon their homes.
But Taleban leaders are denying this is anything other than a temporary measure.
They say the aim is to ensure the safety of civilians while Taleban troops fully secure the Shomali Valley from an opposition counterattack.
Mulla Muttaqi, the Taleban's Information Minister, told journalists in Kabul there was no policy to separate men and women and also denied that the operation amounted to ethnic cleansing.
He said all the different ethnic groups living in the Shomali Valley were being moved out.
But what is certain now is that a massive humanitarian assistance operation is needed to look after thousands of displaced people, many of whom have left their homes with little or no belongings and with no idea when they will be able to return.