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.
The 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.Omar Waraich, Head of South Asia at Amnesty International
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 is calling 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.