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Page last updated at 15:43 GMT, Wednesday, 18 June 2008 16:43 UK

Voices from Kandahar conflict

Nato and Afghan forces have launched an operation to drive out Taleban insurgents from Arghandab district on the outskirts of the southern city of Kandahar.

Residents of Kandahar and people who fled when the Taleban occupied their villages spoke to the BBC about their concerns.

THE TALEBAN OCCUPATION OF VILLAGES

Afghan National Army  searches passengers at a checkpoint near Kandahar on June 17, 2008
Many villagers fled Arghandab district for the safety of Kandahar
Arghandab is a lush district adjacent to Kandahar with many villages mostly occupied in farming.

Late on Monday evening Taleban insurgents entered villages in the area and told residents they intended to occupy the district and fight coalition forces. They gave many villagers the choice: stay and fight alongside the Taleban or leave the area.

Khalid, a medical student studying in Kandahar, said his family fled their home after the Taleban occupied their village called Surband.

"My relatives are from Arghandab and they were forced to flee the district. The Taleban told them to leave. They told local people they should leave the area because they want to fight international forces and the Afghan government.

"They left everything there, they didn't bring any of their property. When they left there was no fighting but now they can't go back because the village is surrounded by coalition forces," he said.

Many people are still trying to come out of the district where my tribe lives because of fighting
Anwar Imitiaz, Kandahar

He said the Taleban occupied Arghandab last year but that they left within a few days.

"This time feels a bit different because the Taleban are saying that they will fight to the end and they will not leave Arghandab."

Anwar Imitiaz in Kandahar told the BBC that Arghandab was the district where his family originally came from.

He said that residents he had spoken to reported that when the Taleban came into the villages they raided the gardens and started eating the fruit they were growing as crops.

"Many people are still trying to come out of the district where my tribe lives because of fighting between the insurgents and the police," he said.

As more residents of Arghandab district flooded into Kandahar, there were more eyewitness reports from areas close to the battle between the insurgents and coalition forces.

Ehsanullah runs a computer school in Kandahar and some of his students come from Arghandab district.

One of his students said that he saw some Taleban "running away, calling to one another and shouting, in a bad situation".

FEARS ABOUT GARDENS AND CROPS

Many of the villagers from Arghandab who have fled to Kandahar city are farmers waiting to harvest their crops.

This is the time to pick the crops and they are so worried about their livelihoods
Medical student Khalid

Medical student Khalid said his relatives - like many others in the district - were pomegranate farmers from the village of Surband.

"They have pomegranate gardens and grow wheat and maize," he said.

"They are worried about their property. This is the time to pick the crops and they are so worried about their livelihoods. They are very unhappy about the situation there."

This view has been echoed by many other villagers forced to flee their land at an important time in the agricultural year.

Office manager Mohmin Zabuli said his family were worried because "grapes and pomegranates could be destroyed by the fighting. It is time for them to be picked."

Another man who wished to remain anonymous had spoken to a friend, a farmer in the village of Tabin, who had decided to remain in Arghandab.

"This morning he gave me a call and there was the sound of shooting. He stayed to look after his livestock.

"He said the Taleban were hiding in people's gardens. This is the safe haven for them. They can hide easily in the gardens and green places."

ATMOSPHERE IN KANDAHAR

As the fighting continues on the outskirts of Kandahar, local residents say that the atmosphere is tense just days after hundreds of Taleban fighters escaped from a city jail.

Afghan map

"The morale here in the city is not very high," Ehsanullah said.

"The panic is reduced to some extent but when the prison was broken into and people escaped we were worried. People have lost a bit of confidence in the coalition forces and the police.

"We are reminded of the vulnerability of Kandahar."

Medical student Khalid said that people were very afraid that the Taleban would launch an offensive against the city.

"The Taleban have given warning in the past that they will attack Kandahar city. It seems they are getting closer. If they capture Arghandab, the second phase of attack will be an attack on Kandahar.

"The situation is very tense."


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