Afghans flee amid fears of battle
Thursday, 19 June 2008

Afghan displaced families are seen near their tents after leaving their homes which were under the control of the Taliban militants in Arghandab district of Kandarhar province, south of Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, June 17, 2008. Hundreds of people have fled their homes in a district of southern Afghanistan where the Taleban have seized control of a number of villages, reports BBC.

Residents and officials in the nearby city of Kandahar say several hundred families have left Arghandab district in recent days.

On Friday about 350 Taleban fighters escaped from a jail in the city.

Afghan and Nato officials say they are redeploying troops to respond to "any potential threats" from the rebels.

It was not immediately clear if the freed Taleban inmates were among the fighters who seized the villages on Monday.

Leaflets

Afghan military officials say 300 troops were flown to Kandahar on Tuesday, while others arrived on Monday.

Witnesses have told the BBC there has been a build up of Nato-led and Afghan forces in Arghandab district.

"The Taleban are on the move, they can't stay in one place for too long," Afghan Defence Ministry spokesman Gen Zahir Azimi told the BBC.

"They have also blown up a few bridges. We are looking for them everywhere."

Reports say Nato helicopters have been dropping leaflets on villages telling people to leave before an operation.

One taxi driver in Kandahar told the BBC he had driven seven families from Arghandab to Kandahar since Monday.

Villagers in Arghandab district contacted by the BBC Pashto service said the Taleban had blown up three bridges and planted bombs under others.

Reports on news agencies say the militants have also been planting mines.

Mullah Daoud, who claimed to be a Taleban commander, rang the BBC from an unspecified location.

He said: "We have gathered in Arghandab because we want to capture an important city like Kandahar."

Diplomatic row

Arghandab district lies about 20km (12 miles) north of Kandahar.

The city is one of the key battlegrounds of the rebel insurgency against Afghanistan's government and troops from Nato and a US-led coalition.

President Hamid Karzai is from the city and it is also the birthplace of the Taleban.

Friday's mass jailbreak prompted some of the angriest exchanges between Kabul and Islamabad in recent years.

On Monday, Afghanistan's ambassador to Pakistan was summoned to receive a formal protest over remarks by President Karzai.

Mr Karzai had said on Sunday that Afghanistan had the right to send troops across the border to chase militants taking shelter in Pakistan.

The US says cross-border raids from Pakistan are a growing problem.

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