• Crossing a red line? The attack on the ICRC

Crossing a red line? The attack on the ICRC

30 May 2013

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has condemned the attack on its office in Jalalabad yesterday in which an Afghan security guard was killed and an international staff member was wounded.

"We condemn this attack in the strongest possible terms," said Jacques de Maio, the ICRC's head of operations for South Asia.  "Right now, our thoughts go out to the family of our dead colleague.”

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 assault has been widely condemned.  Some commentators have suggested that by targeting the ICRC, which has won widespread praise for its strict neutrality in helping victims of conflict, the Afghan insurgency may have entered a new phase.  

According to Kate Clark of the Afghan Analysts’ Network, “The insurgency has crossed a red line.  It is not just that the ICRC enjoys special protection under the Geneva Conventions. In Afghanistan, the organisation has earned itself a reputation for neutrality and dedication through successive stages of the decades-long war.”

Clark noted that the value of ICRC’s work has been acknowledged by all sides to the conflict.  She points out that last year the Taliban published a strong statement supporting its activities. 

“Since 2001, of all the international organisations, it has the strongest working relationship with insurgent groups,” she says.  “It gets the dead bodies of combatants home for burial, traces and visits security detainees, keeping them in touch with their families, provides medical care to civilians and wounded combatants alike and calls all sides to account for violations of the laws of armed conflict.“

The attack was the second on a humanitarian organisation in Afghanistan in less than a week.  The Taliban have claimed responsibility for an armed assault on the compound of the International Organisation for Migration in Kabul last Friday which killed three Afghans and injured three international staff.

Clark notes that no-one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack on the ICRC.   If the Jalalabad attack was not ordered by the Taliban,  she says “it would be good to hear not just a denial, but a condemnation.“  

Read Kate Clark's piece in full here