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15,000 Afghan families 'displaced'

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GENEVA, Switzerland (CNN) -- This year's upsurge in fighting is causing serious dislocation in southern Afghanistan, where NATO and government troops are battling insurgents, the U.N. refugee agency said.

The office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees issued a statement Tuesday saying "an estimated 15,000 families" have been displaced in Kandahar, Helmand and Uruzgan provinces since July.

The UNHCR says it is "concerned about the increasing number" of displaced people.

"This fresh displacement adds new hardship to a population already hosting 116,400 people earlier uprooted by conflict and drought," it said.

"We expect further displacement may take place until conditions are safe for the population to return to their homes."

It said Afghanistan's government has formed a Disaster Management Committee in Kandahar to coordinate relief efforts. It is working with U.N. agencies, such as the World Food Program, and has distributed blankets, clothes and sheeting to families.

"Some families were reported to have gone back from Kandahar city to Panjwai and Zhare Dasht during daylight, but returned to Kandahar city at night as they felt it was too insecure to stay overnight," the UNHCR said.

NATO plans to expand its mission to the east and countrywide. A ceremony is expected to be held Thursday making that official.

In the east on Monday night, two U.S. soldiers and an Afghan soldier were killed in fighting, the military said. Three U.S. soldiers were also wounded.

The Coalition Press Information Center said the casualties occurred when extremists attacked a combat patrol that was operating in the Pech district of Kunar province.

Over 7,000 Afghan and U.S. troops are operating in eastern Afghanistan as part of Operation Mountain Fury, an operation against a growing Taliban insurgency.

Since the start of the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. military has suffered 179 fatalities.

The NATO-led ISAF will expand to 14 additional provinces in eastern Afghanistan. NATO said it will take command of 12 additional provincial reconstruction teams, bringing the total number of NATO-led teams to 25.

The number of troops under NATO command will increase from the current 20,000 to over 30,000, and most of these forces are already in place in Afghanistan, NATO said.


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