Taliban surge in N Afghanistan sends thousands fleeing

Camp Istiqlal (Afghanistan): Sakina, who is 11, maybe 12, walked with her family for 10 days after the Taliban seized her village in northern Afghanistan and burned down the local school.

They are now among around 50 families living in a makeshift camp on a rocky patch of land on the edge of the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

They roast in plastic tents under scorching heat that reaches 44 degrees Celsius at midday. There are no trees, and the only bathroom for the entire camp is a tattered tent pitched over a foul-smelling hole. As the Taliban surge through northern Afghanistan a traditional stronghold of US-allied warlords and an area dominated by the country's ethnic minorities thousands of families like Sakina's are fleeing their homes, fearful of living under the insurgents' rule.

In the last 15 days, Taliban advances have driven more than 5,600 families from their homes, most of them in the northern reaches of the country, according to the government's Refugee and Repatriations Ministry.

In Camp Istiqlal, family after family, all from the Hazara ethnic minority, told of Taliban commanders using heavy-handed tactics as they overran their towns and villages raising doubts among many over their persistent promises amid negotiations that they will not repeat their harsh rule of the past.

Sakina said it was the middle of the night when her parents packed up their belongings and fled their village of Abdulgan in Balkh province, but not before the invading Taliban set fire to her school. Sakina said she doesn't understand why her school was burned.

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