Calls for safe passage for civilians in Helmand

MONITORING (SW) – Rights group on Thursday called for safe passage for at least 35,000 stranded civilians as fighting between security forces and the Taliban entered sixth day in Helmand.

Omar Zwak, spokesman for the governor of Helmand, said seven civilians had been killed and 23 wounded in the clashes so far. He added that one security force was killed and five others were wounded in the fighting last night.

The spokesman for the governor of Helmand said that security forces carried out airstrikes on the Chahanjir area of ​​Nad Ali district and the Helmand-Kandahar highway last night, killing 36 Taliban and wounding 11 others.

The Helmand Health Department announced yesterday that 19 dead and 150 injured had been taken to the provincial and emergency hospitals of the province, including civilians.

As the conflict in Helmand continued, the number of displaced families is increasing.

Civilians must be allowed safe passage out of Lashkar Gah following three days of intense fighting between Afghan government and Taliban forces that has blocked all exit routes from the city and forced at least 35,000 people to flee their homes, said Amnesty International.

It said in a statement that heavy fighting, in which Afghan forces supported by US airstrikes are defending the Helmand Province capital from a Taliban assault, has taken out power across the entire city as well as telephone lines and internet access.

The situation for civilians in Lashkar Gah is grave and could deteriorate rapidly in the coming days, it added.

Omar Waraich, Head of South Asia at Amnesty International said with nowhere to go, some of the tens of thousands displaced are reported by local media to have sought refuge in homes in neighbouring areas, while hospitals have admitted hundreds of civilian casualties according to United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in Afghanistan.

“The situation for civilians in Lashkar Gah is grave and could deteriorate rapidly in the coming days. Tens of thousands of people are trapped in the middle of a bloody battle that shows no sign of abating,” said Omar Waraich, Head of South Asia at Amnesty International.

“To avoid this turning into a humanitarian disaster, both parties to the conflict must ensure that civilians are protected and allowed to safely leave the war zones and get out of the city.”

According to UNOCHA, the highway linking Lashkar Gah to Kandahar – the only direct route out of the city – is inaccessible due to the presence of improvised explosive devices.

Amnesty International called on the Afghan government and the international community to ensure that those displaced are provided with immediate shelter, food and other humanitarian support.

“So far, there has been no word from the Afghan government on any support or protection that will be provided to civilians, especially those displaced. With the help of the international community, the authorities must expedite the provision of mobile clinics, food deliveries and other essentials as a lifeline to the residents of Lashkar Gah,” said Omar Waraich.