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Afghans Flee, Fearing US Strike - 2001-09-17


Reports from Afghanistan Monday say tens of thousands of people are fleeing from Kabul, Kandahar and other cities, apparently out of fear that the United States is preparing a military strike against the country's ruling Taleban.

The U.N. refugee agency says it is preparing for a massive influx of refugees into Pakistan.

Yusuf Hassan, a spokesman in Islamabad for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, told a reporter for the French news agency AFP that up to half the population of Kandahar - about 100,000 people - has left the city. Although U.N. personnel have already left Afghanistan, Mr. Hassan says his information comes from reliable sources there.

Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan, is where the Taleban's spiritual leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, has his headquarters.

Other reports tell of massive departures of refugees from the western city of Herat and from Jalalabad, in the northeast, near a cave system where Osama bin Laden is said to have a large base.

Taleban officials and their families are reported to be on the move in Afghanistan, heading out of the major cities for the relative safety of the countryside.

Refugees trying to leave Afghanistan are heading for Iran and Pakistan, but it is unclear whether they will be allowed to cross into those countries. The United States has asked both Tehran and Islamabad to close their borders with Afghanistan.

The United Nations has already identified Afghanistan as having the worst refugee problem in the world. Years of drought and an ongoing civil war have forced more than two million Afghans from their homes within the country. Another 2.6 million people have crossed into Pakistan and Iran.

Some information for this report provided by AFP and AP.

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