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Deteriorating security also has halted development work, with many aid workers leaving the region. The need to subcontract work to Afghans - and Taliban extortion - have resulted in a loss of “quality control,” according to the Western aid official.

One Western diplomat, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that earlier this year foreign staff would not think twice about traveling around inside Kunduz. That has changed.

During a visit this weekend, city market stalls bustled with activity as the sun dipped and the end of the Ramadan fast approached. Yet nearly all those interviewed would not give their names for fear of reprisal.

“The Taliban come and go from my village as they please and would kill me for talking with a foreigner,” said one man fashioning tin pails by hand on a back street. “They are getting stronger here.”

And bolder. Later that same day, this reporter passed what appeared to be a group of Taliban militants huddled alongside the main road east out of Kunduz city.

When the reporter arrived at a police outpost a mile farther up, officers were hastily commandeering a pickup truck packed with about a dozen locals. They locked and loaded their machine guns in the flatbed and sped off.

A radio call had been received moments earlier that militants were spotted down the road.

Minutes after they responded, a pair of rocket-propelled grenades were fired at a German patrol convoy in the south of the town, followed by small-arms fire. Across town, an IED was detonated, killing four children and wounding a policeman.

This article was reported with a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.