Fear Sets in as Taliban Seize Former Bastions of Resistance

Sayed Mohammad Alizada, 40, a resident of Kunduz, spent more than a month waking up to the unrelenting sound of mortars and gunfire in the distance. Then one night early last month, as the front lines crept deeper into his neighborhood, a mortar landed outside his home. Finally, he fled on Sunday, hours after the Taliban seized the city.

“I thought if they kept firing mortars, I could lose my entire family, even myself,” said Mr. Alizada, who was injured by crossfire during the battle. “It was the most intense fighting we’ve ever seen.”

Sitting across from an open door in his living room, he had felt the sharp pain of shrapnel tearing through his left shoulder. Within minutes, he and his family crammed into his rickshaw and sped toward the hospital as clashes between government troops and Taliban fighters broke out blocks away.

By the time he left Kunduz on Sunday, the city he knew was almost unrecognizable: The buildings were bullet-riddled. The roads were pockmarked with craters from mortar fire. Outside his house, a mulberry tree had been split in two by a mortar.

His was one of the more than 6,000 families who have been displaced from Kunduz since the Taliban seized the city, according to Mohammad Yousef Khadam, head of emergency situations for Kunduz’s refugees and repatriations department.

Many have fled to Kabul, where a fenced-in basketball court in a park downtown has been transformed into a place of refuge. Displaced people huddled together under makeshift lodging consisting of little more than large olive-green bedsheets stretched across four wooden poles.

As people arrived Sunday night, they searched for any space they could find. Women and children slept side by side on a patchwork of red Afghan rugs. One woman cradling an infant begged for a doctor to visit the camp. She had slept in the biting cold in the park the night before, she said, and her daughter had become sick.

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Fear and Misery in an Afghan City Where Taliban Stalk the Streets

KUNDUZ, Afghanistan — The Afghan way of war in 2021 comes down to this: a watermelon vendor on a sweltering city street, a government Humvee at the front line just 30 feet away, and Taliban fighters lurking unseen on the other side of the road.

When the shooting starts, the vendor makes himself scarce, leaving his melons on the table and hoping for the best. When it stops, selling resumes, to customers now all too rare.

“I don’t have a choice. I’ve got to sell the melons,” said the vendor, Abdel Alim, speaking to New York Times journalists while he kept an eye on a lane within Kunduz city from which he said Taliban had emerged. “Most people have left,” he said. “There is fighting all the time.”

374,000 in Afghanistan’s north, and several other provincial capitals as well, as the Afghan government’s war with the Taliban enters a new and dangerous phase. For weeks, the insurgents have captured vulnerable districts across the country’s north, sometimes without even firing a shot. And on Wednesday, the Taliban said they had captured an important border crossing with Pakistan, at Spin Boldak — the fourth crossing they have seized in less than a month.

taken by the insurgents in 2015 and then again in 2016. Both times, the insurgents were eventually pushed back by the Afghan forces with help from American airstrikes. It was here that an American gunship mistakenly blasted a Doctors Without Borders hospital in 2015, killing 42 people.

This time, the Americans won’t be coming. The battle for Kunduz has become an intimate fight between Afghan opponents at close range.

“Every night they come to these houses and fire on us,” said the chief of police of Kunduz’s Third Municipal District, Sayed Mansoor Hashimi, looking out at now-vacant dwellings all around his police station. “Slowly, slowly they are tightening the circle.”

The war in Kunduz is intertwined with the fabric of the city. Shopping trips are planned between bursts of war. Residents no longer pay sufficient attention, said Marzia Salam Yaftali, the medical director at Kunduz Regional Hospital. “They are wounded in the streets or in the bazaar,” she said.

At the hospital, Ezzatullah, 14, lay in one of the wards, his legs wrapped in bandages: He lost both his feet when a mortar landed as he was playing outside his house. Three members of his family, including one of his parents, were killed.

“I can’t go to school now,” he said. Asked what he saw as his future, he replied firmly: “I want to be a man, to rebuild my country.”

The war, and the enemy, are inescapable. “We have to live here. Where can we go?” asked Ezamuddin Safi, a telecommunications worker who had to flee his home inside the city in early July. He was passing the day inside a small downtown restaurant.

“My 3-year-old boy, he screams when he hears the firing. He’s tired,” said Mr. Safi, 25. “Taliban are everywhere.”

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A Fragile Ceasefire Lets Afghans Risk Travel for Eid

KABUL, Afghanistan — On Saturday, the final day of a three-day national cease-fire for Eid al-Fitr, the three-day Muslim celebration marking the end of fasting after the holy month of Ramadan, the killings in Afghanistan kept coming.

A Kabul traffic policeman was murdered Saturday morning, a day after a bombing at a Kabul mosque during Friday prayers killed 12 civilians, including the imam. A roadside bomb in Kandahar killed five civilians Thursday, among them three children. An explosion outside a shop in Kunduz that day killed two civilians, including a child.

But in this country, those scattered attacks represented a respite of sorts from the much more frequent and deadlier ones that have dominated for most of the year. Afghans took advantage, braving perilous city streets and provincial roadways to visit family members for sumptuous Eid al-Fitr feasts and celebrations.

This was the fourth such cease-fire since 2018, but the first with American and NATO troops withdrawing after two decades of war, leaving Afghans facing an ever more uncertain and unsettled future. The cease-fire came at a time of high anxiety, with terrified Afghans continuing to flee the country and Western embassies warning their own citizens to leave, too.

provincial director of an Afghan human rights commission was waylaid on the same highway and shot to death.

When Ms. Matin and her family approached the same area, Jalrez — known locally as “Death Valley” — she said she instructed her nephews, age 4 and 7, to stay absolutely quiet. The car radio was turned off.

“Everyone was silent — no one even breathed,” she said. She described Taliban gunmen on the roadside, “with their guns, long hair and eye makeup, they were everywhere.” But their car was allowed to pass in deference to the cease-fire, she said.

Mohammad Damishyar, a schoolteacher who lives in Bamian, rebuffed warnings from relatives to stay off the roads, even during the cease-fire. On Thursday, the first day of the cease-fire, he rode in a crowded taxi on a daylong drive through Taliban-controlled areas to celebrate Eid with relatives in Baghlan Province in northern Afghanistan.

data compiled by The New York Times.

30,000 Taliban fighters were permitted to wander through government-controlled cities, embracing soldiers and police, visiting tourist spots and eating ice cream.

In announcing this year’s cease-fire on May 9, the Taliban expressly forbade such encounters.

“The Mujahedeen must not visit enemy areas nor permit entrance of enemy personnel into Mujahedeen controlled areas,” the Taliban statement said.

The Afghan government of President Ashraf Ghani said its forces would comply with the cease-fire but reserved the right to defend against any enemy attack.

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