Afghanistan: thousands displaced in Kandahar fighting

A Canadian soldier was killed and dozens wounded, five seriously, when two US fighter jets mistakenly strafed them Sept. 4 at a battlefront in Kandahar. (CanWest News Service, Sept. 5) If we were to engage in conspiracy theory, we could hypothesize that this wasn’t really “friendly fire,” but intentional retaliation for perceived Canadian national insubordination to US global leadership.

Thirty-two Canadian soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since Canada sent troops there in 2002, and 24 of those have fallen since operations moved to the volatile south in February. Glyn Berry, a Canadian diplomat, was killed in a suicide strike in Kandahar in January.

Later on Sept. 4, the Kandahar Air Field was hit with a rocket strike, the second in three days. Earlier in the day in Kabul, a British soldier and four Afghan civilians were killed when a vehicle-borne suicide bomber slammed into a NATO convoy. (CanWest News Service, Sept. 5)

While incidents involving Western troops at least make brief headlines in the West, the far greater impacts to the Afghan people are almost completely overlooked. But officials in Kandahar report that thousands of families have been displaced by the fighting between NATO and Taliban guerillas in the southern province. There has been a surge in Taliban-led violence in southern Afghanistan. Operation Medusa, a major NATO-led offensive against supposed Taliban strongholds, was launched Sept. 2. More than 250 “militants” are reported in Panjwaii and Zhari districts.

Mohammad Nabi Safai, head of Kandahar’s Refugees Department, said reports from tribal leaders in the Panjwaii and Zhari indicated more than 2,500 families had been displaced by the fighting.

“People are still feeing their villages and are in a very desperate condition with no shelter and food,” Safai said, adding that many have fled to the provincial capital.

Haji Agha Lalai, a tribal elder in Panjwaii, estimated that up to 5,000 families had been displaced from Panjwaii and Zhari. “The governor of Kandahar has helped some 1,000 displaced families but the remaining thousand families are in a very bad condition and need urgent assistance,” Lalai said.

He also claimed that 13 civilians, including women and children, were killed during a NATO air strike on the villages of Zangawat and Ghalzian villages in Panjwaii on Sept. 3.

Nader Farhad, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees spokesman in Kabul, said the UNHCR was aware of the recent displacements but did not have precise figures because of the security situation.

Officials also said fighting and drought had also forced more than 4,000 families to flee their houses in neighbouring Helmand province over the past two months.

More than 2,000 people, including militants, members of the Afghan security forces, civilians and foreign troops, have lost their lives this year. (IRIN, Sept. 6)

See our last post on Afghanistan.