Last week, Kawsar Sama and her family packed up their belongings and got on a flight to the capital city of Kabul. For the 21-year-old and her family, life in the southern city of Kandahar had become dangerous as the Taliban has pushed into the districts surrounding Afghanistan’s second-largest city in recent weeks.
“It’s too risky for people to send their children to school. You’d only go to the market if you absolutely had to, and even then, so many of the stores would be shut. Life had stopped,” Sama said from her family’s temporary home in Kabul.
Though she says the Taliban is yet to enter the city centre itself, the fighting has come to the districts. Residents Al Jazeera spoke to said this has left them feeling trapped, in constant fear that the Taliban could arrive any day.
For the Taliban, taking full control of a city home to hundreds of thousands of people a month before the final withdrawal of US-led foreign forces would be a big victory, but to the Kandahari people that all-consuming thought is a nightmare.
Navid Amini, 23, has spent his entire life in the city of Kandahar, but he says he has never seen anything like what has been going on in the province in recent weeks.
Like Sama, Amini says each Taliban advance in the surrounding districts exacerbates the fear among the people.
“There is war all around the city,” Amini said by phone from Kandahar. On Wednesday, residents told Al Jazeera that there was fighting in four different districts, and that the Taliban had captured a key commercial building.
Last week, Human Rights Watch released a report accusing the Taliban of summarily rounding up and executing people believed to work for the government and members of the Afghan National Security Forces.
The HRW report came just after the United Nations issued a warning to all parties to the conflict that they are “tracking the many allegations of harm to civilians” in the province.
The Taliban says it “categorically rejects” the accusations, which it called “propaganda”.
The group went on to say: “We invite all humanitarian and international organisations along with the media to visit Spin Boldak district. We will facilitate their travel and let them prove where and when anyone was killed?”
Dur Mohammad, 42, does not buy the Taliban’s words. He says his nephew, Ahmadullah, who had been part of the police, was taken in the night more than a week ago. He has not been heard from since.
Mohammad says the family was lied to by the group when they first took over Spin Boldak district earlier this month.
He says they sent letters assuring anyone who had worked with the government or foreign forces that no harm would come to them so long as they reported to the leadership and admitted to their “crime”.
“So, we told him to come back. For four days he was fine, then one night they just took him and we haven’t heard from him since.”