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KUNAR / WASHINGTON —In Afghanistan, fighting between Islamic State militants and Taliban insurgents has displaced over 20,000 people in eastern Kunar province recently, according to U.N. officials.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said Thursday that 3,000 families fled their homes, and warned the situation could escalate as the warring sides mobilize more fighters.
"Sporadic clashes continue to be reported in several areas of the (Chapa Dara) district, with indications that both sides are reinforcing positions and continuing to mobilize, while the frontlines remain unchanged," OCHA reported.
The report warns that efforts by the Afghan National Security Forces could spark renewed fighting as the government tries to push both Islamic State and the Taliban out of the area.
Meanwhile, provincial government officials are working to help displaced families.
"As our survey is still under way, the number of displaced families recorded up until now is around 2,500. Humanitarian aid has already been distributed," Abdul Ghani Musamim, a spokesperson for the Kunar provincial government, told VOA.
The displaced families, mostly women and children, sought refuge in nearby districts and villages. According to local residents, fighting forced most residents out of three villages — Digal, Korangal and Manar — in Chapa Dara district.
"Only a few families remained in those villages. During the past few days, the area is calm, but people are afraid to return," Shoaib Gahrwal, a civil activist in eastern Kunar province, told VOA.
Local officials say most of the displaced families are living with relatives, some in makeshift tents.
"We are nine families living in one house now. We fled our home at night. We have received a little aid. The government should pave the path for our safe return to our homes," Gul Rasool, a local displaced civilian, told VOA.
Twelve-year-old Shafiqa told a VOA reporter that she and her family walked for hours before reaching safety.
"We escaped in the middle of the night. I walked for two hours with my cow until I reached [a relative's house]," she said.
The disruption brought by the fighting also means thousands of children cannot attend school.
"I miss my school," said Jawed, a third-grader. The child was with his family from an internally displaced people's camp in the province.
Afghan security forces have an operation under way to clear the areas of Taliban insurgents and IS militants, according to Musamim.
"Afghan Army forces will continue their operations in eastern Afghanistan, including Kunar and Nuristan province, to provide security and prevent further displacements," Col. Qais Mangal, a spokesperson for the ministry, told VOA.
Clashes between the Taliban, IS and the Afghan security forces are a continuing issue in eastern Afghanistan, particularly in Nangarhar province.
The province is the traditional stronghold of the IS Khorasan branch that emerged in the country in 2015 and has since made inroads to other parts of the country.