• A blow to Afghan aid: the impact of the ICRC attack

A blow to Afghan aid: the impact of the ICRC attack

04 June 2013

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has announced that it is removing some international staff from Afghanistan and curtailing some of its activities there following last week’s unprecedented attack on its Jalalabad office.

An Afghan security guard, Bashir Khan, was killed and three staff members were injured when several gunmen and a suicide attacker stormed the building.  It was the first attack of its kind against the ICRC, which has worked in Afghanistan since 1987.

Many people believed that the ICRC’s strict impartiality, helping people on both sides of the Afghan conflict, would protect it from insurgent attacks.  They included Bashir Khan’s widow, Bibi Laila, who told Reuters news agency, "My husband gave us assurances that he worked at a humanitarian organization and whenever there was fighting, they (the ICRC) collect dead bodies and help both sides, so no harm would come to him."

According to BAAG Director Jawed Nader, “The ICRC’s response to this brutal attack has been measured.  However, that attack - and its repercussions - have serious implications, both for international aid organisations working in Afghanistan and for the Afghans they are trying to help.  It is likely to further restrict access to desperately needed humanitarian assistance. ”

Scores of disabled people, some of whom who have received help from the ICRC, demonstrated outside its Jalalabad offices on Sunday to condemn the attack.  The Daily Times in Pakistan quoted one demonstrator, an amputee called Ferdous, as saying,  “We have enormous problems. The ICRC has been the only one helping us. We call on the government to protect the ICRC.”

ICRC spokesman Robin Waudo told Reuters today that some of the organisation’s activities would be put on hold, but did not specify which programmes might be affected.  However, he added that these changes would be “temporary”.  The ICRC, he said, would continue to provide orthopaedic services, and to support a large Kandahar hospital.  It would also continue to facilitate contacts between detainees and their families.  The ICRC’s operation in Afghanistan is of one of its biggest.  The organisation has around 1,800 staff working in 17 locations across the country.

The Taliban have denied responsibility for the attack on the organisation.

BAAG Director Jawed Nader said, “Whoever is responsible for this outrage should consider the negative impact it will have.  The attackers, whoever they are, are gambling with the welfare and safety of the Afghan people.  Afghans recognise the sacrifices made by aid agencies like the ICRC and will only resent the insurgents for their brutal actions.  All insurgents must refrain from attacking such organisations, which are doing their best to help Afghans affected by the long-running conflict.”