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May 3, 8:07 AM EDT

Afghanistan: Taliban offensive forces thousands from homes


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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Fierce fighting between government forces and Taliban insurgents in northern Afghanistan has forced thousands of people to flee their homes, officials said Sunday.

Around 2,000 families have been displaced since the Taliban launched a surprise attack near the city of Kunduz nine days ago, said Meher Khuda Sabar, an official in the Refugee and Repatriation Ministry.

Sabar, who heads the ministry's internal displacement department, said fighting has forced people into the city from surrounding areas as the insurgents close in. Many of the displaced were living with relatives, said Sayed Abdullah Hashimi, head of the Kunduz refugee department.

The surprise attack, and the authorities' apparent failure to detect the insurgents massing in the area beforehand, has raised fresh concerns about the Afghan government's ability to secure the country following the formal conclusion of the U.S.-led combat mission at the end of last year.

More than seven months after President Ashraf Ghani took office, Afghanistan does not have a defense minister, even as the security situation has rapidly deteriorated nationwide.

After the Kunduz attack began, Ghani delayed a state visit to India by hours to confer with U.S. military leaders.

Within days, the Afghan military rushed reinforcements to Kunduz. NATO said it had troops in the area in an advisory and training capacity -- the limited remit of its Resolute Support mission, which involves around 13,000 soldiers.

Brig. Gen. Wilson Shoffner, spokesman for the mission, said U.S. jets had flown over insurgent positions near Kunduz in recent days but did not drop any munitions.

U.S. Gen. John Campbell, who heads U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, meets with Ghani several times a week and participates in the regular meetings of Afghanistan's National Security Council, according to his office.

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