Civilians Flee Kunduz, Taliban Fighting

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Afghan civilians were increasingly leaving the northern city of Kunduz on Thursday to escape fighting between government forces and the Taliban, a battle now in its fourth day, officials said.

The United Nations warned of a rapid deterioration of conditions for those "trapped in the city," as food and fresh water become difficult to find.

The fighting in Kunduz, located on a key national crossroads, has raised concerns of a repeat of last year's scenario, when it briefly fell to the Taliban. Insurgents at the time held Kunduz for three days, then resisted Afghan and U.S. forces for almost three weeks before the city was brought fully back under government control.

This time, the insurgents, who launched a multi-pronged attack early on Monday, have been pushed back from the city's south, said Gen. Qasim Jungalbagh, the police chief for Kunduz province. One Afghan solider was killed and another three wounded in overnight fighting, he added.

The U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan, Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland, said Afghan commandoes were clearing "isolated pockets of Taliban resistance" within the city on Thursday.

Dominic Parker, head of the U.N.'s Kabul office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs, said thousands of people have been forced to leave their homes in recent days. Clinics and other health facilities have shut down or are understaffed, reducing access to health care.

OCHA's information officer in Kabul, Danielle Moylan, said "up to 10,000 people have fled their homes."

Since Wednesday, about 1,200 people have arrived from Kunduz in neighboring Takhar province, said provincial refugee official, Murtaza Hamdard.

"Most of them are staying in school buildings or with other families, but some are living out in the open," Hamdard said and appealed for urgent aid.