On the day security forces backed by U.S. Special Forces raided a Taliban-held police base in northern Afghanistan in order to release its prisoners, 86 Afghan athletes, officials and their families fled the city in search of safety — but with little room to roam. The Special Operations raid was meant to break up an operation aimed at kidnapping foreigners and kidnapping aid workers in Mazar-i-Sharif, which has a population of 300,000. According to wire reports, the special forces raid “unleashed a frenzy of gun battles” that terrorized residents in the surrounding area and left 19 bodies dead and dozens injured.
The ill-fated attack also left bodies of Afghans, including members of the Afghan security forces, as well as international staff, wounded. Speaking in one of those wounded patients, Afghan sports minister Rahmatullah Sherzad expressed his shock about what occurred.
“I arrived in hospital and spoke to the wounded and could see the confusion among them,” he told Reuters. “As a father, I couldn’t believe the horror that surrounded me. It was as if I was looking at a nightmare.”
Once safe from gunfire, however, there was a problem: getting out of the city.
The families of the 96 men and women in the group traveled three hours to the provincial capital, and then walked to the Khwendoek Hotel, and, one person tells NPR, would eventually make the “far as Mazar” by climbing and climbing through a hole in the wall. But the hotel was targeted and heavily hit, injuring the staff and leaving the guests to find their own way to safety.
NPR explains that some of the stranded travelers apparently stayed with friends and relatives, but others took shelter in empty houses and private homes until, from the safety of those homes, they got on buses to reach the town of Mazar-i-Sharif.
As for the Afghans who moved to Mazar-i-Sharif, the governor was asked whether those fleeing were fleeing attacks on civilians or foreign, aid workers. “I haven’t received any reports that help is not available for foreign nationals,” he told Reuters. “So far we’ve received less reports about Afghan civilians.”
The Independent Journal Review writes that the Taliban’s tactic of attacking civilians and aid workers helps the group maintain both its legitimacy and its recruitment campaign, and that Mazar’s support for the U.S. could help it escape the danger. And despite the incident, this reporter was able to watch sport yesterday for the first time in Afghanistan.
Read the full story at NPR, The Independent Journal Review and AFP.
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