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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tajik Men Fleeing Roundups In Kabul

DENOU, Afghanistan -- It was 4 o'clock on Sunday morning when Taliban soldiers pulled up at Wahidullo's apartment block in north Kabul with 50 Datsun pickups and started rounding up young Tajik men.

Armed with Kalashnikov rifles, the soldiers seized 13 men, ages 18 to 30, one of whom they bound and gagged, and press-ganged them to defend the country in case of a U.S. attack, Wahidullo said.

"That was when I decided to leave. I was afraid they'd take me too," said the 30-year-old father of two young children.

For ethnic Tajiks headed north on the old Kabul road Monday, the journey began in a pre-dawn panic Sunday, as soldiers descended upon their neighborhoods, stopping to loot televisions, videos and other valuables.

The refugees piled into cars and headed north, until they reached the frontline no man's land that their drivers would not cross. Carrying their children, they walked three hours in the scorching sun before reaching territory controlled by the opposition Northern Alliance.

The refugees braved Taliban bomb attacks and faced trigger-happy bandits who stole what little cash they had left after paying the extortionate drivers.

As Afghanistan prepares for war, the exodus from its cities has begun, in a country where millions have been displaced by successive wars over 22 years. Members of the Taliban are among those frantically moving their families out of Kabul, said refugee Mohammad Hossam, 30.

Refugees such as Wahidullo, who goes by one name, fear American bombs will land on Kabul, but the trigger for their escape was the Taliban press gang.

On Monday, the Afghan government said it was mobilizing 300,000 troops to help fight off any U.S. attacks. Some observers considered the figure grossly inflated.

"They take the young men and take them to the front line to fight with the American people who are coming," said 58-year-old refugee Mohammad Anwar, speaking in English. "Those who refuse are sent [to jail]."

Refugees were consistent in their descriptions of the roundups, which they said began three or four days ago. Tajik men were being sent to the most dangerous military posts, they said.

There was no independent confirmation of their stories; Western journalists have been kicked out of Kabul.

With the combined threats of Taliban raids and American bombs, about 100 refugees a day are making it out along the harrowing northern road -- most of them frightened ethnic Tajiks.

Afghanistan's ethnic rivalries go back centuries and highlight the difficulties of finding a stable political solution here.

In the northeastern opposition-held Badakhshan province, most of the people are ethnic Tajiks, who face persecution from the Taliban, who are ethnic Pushtun.

The country of 25 million is 38 percent Pushtun, 25 percent Tajik, 19 percent Hazara and 6 percent Uzbeks, with other smaller groups making up the rest.

About 300 members of the Hazara minority were taken by the Taliban press gangs in recent days, Hossam said.