By Matin Sahak
MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Villagers in the northern Afghan province of Faryab have appealed to the government for help after being cut off from food supplies for weeks by a Taliban blockade, local people and officials said.
Faryab, in the far northwest of Afghanistan, has seen a surge in fighting this year as the Taliban have battled both government forces and Islamic State militants for control of the zone's valuable transit routes into neighbouring Turkmenistan.
Residents of Pashtun Kot district in the centre of the province say they have been unable to feed their children properly for weeks because of Taliban blockades of roads leading into the district.
"So far seven women, with a child and an old man, have died of hunger," said Wali Mohammad, a resident of Sar-e Howz, an area of Pashtun Kot.
"The area has been under siege by the Taliban for months and for the past two months they have been blocking roads into Faryab centre so we can't get food."
Mohammad Taher Rahmani, head of the local provincial council, said that around 1,000 families in the area were facing hardship in increasingly cold winter weather.
"If food aid doesn't reach them there will be a humanitarian disaster," he said.
Karim Yourush, spokesman for the local police, said the Taliban had targeted a dam providing drinking water and water for irrigation in the area but efforts were under way to reopen roads.
The conflict in Afghanistan has intensified over recent months, even as moves towards possible future peace talks have accelerated.
Western officials say both the Taliban and government forces are trying to make gains on the battlefield to shore up their positions if negotiations to end the war take place.
Much of Afghanistan is suffering from food shortages as a result of one of the worst droughts for years and aid groups have been struggling to help people in isolated regions.
Javid Bidar, spokesman for the Faryab provincial governor, said two lorries of food had been delivered already and security forces were preparing an operation to relieve the area.
Local residents say they are being pressed by Taliban fighters to move to other areas under insurgent control.
"We're short of food and if the government doesn't send food, people here will die," said Amir Mohammad. "Over the past few days, more of our children have been falling sick."
"We've held out so far but the Taliban are telling us to get out and go to the areas they control."
(Writing by James Mackenzie; editing by Andrew Roche)