International Red Cross to reduce presence in Afghanistan

Afghan men are reflected in a mirror as they receive relief goods at the office of the International Committee of Red Cross in Kunduz, Afghanistan, on Monday. The organization announced Monday it will "drastically reduce" its presence in Afghanistan, mainly in Kunduz and Faryab province, after the deaths of seven workers this year. Photo by Najim Raheem/EPA

Oct. 10 (UPI) — The International Committee of the Red Cross said Monday that it will “drastically” reduce its operations in Afghanistan, including closing some offices, after seven members were killed in attacks this year.

“Since December 2016, the ICRC has been directly targeted in northern Afghanistan three times, including in what we considered one of our safest facilities, the rehabilitation center in Mazar-i-Sharif,” Monica Zanarelli, head of the delegation for the ICRC in Afghanistan said in a statement. “These incidents have affected not only the ICRC in Afghanistan, but the organization as a whole.”

ICRC, in a news release, said “there is no other choice but to drastically reduce its presence and activities in Afghanistan, in particular in the north of the country.”

ICRC’s offices in Faryab and Kunduz provinces will be closed and a region hub in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif will be “seriously downsized.” The rehabilitation center in Mazar-i-Sharif will stay open.

The organization said it will review its present in the rest of the country.

“This is a difficult moment for the ICRC and the staff,” Zanarelli said. “After 30 years of continuous presence in the country, we are reducing our presence and operations. But let’s be very clear, we are not leaving Afghanistan. Limiting our staff’s exposure to risks is our focus, all the while assisting the people affected by the conflict the best way we can.”

Abdul Wali Aziz, head of the coordination department at the Afghan health ministry, said in a New York Times report the agency’s decision is “bad news for residents of these provinces.”

At the organization’s seven rehabilitation centers around the country, more than 19,000 artificial legs and arms and other devices are provided every year. The Red Cross transported wounded soldiers from battlefields to health facilities.

At its clinics in Kunduz, an average of 80 patients a day are treated.

In December 2016, a staff member was taken in Kunduz province and released four weeks later.

In February, six staff members were killed and two others abducted in Jawzjan province. After seven months of captivity, the abducted staff were released on Sept. 5.

On Sept. 11, a physiotherapist was shot and killed by a long-term patient inside the rehabilitation center in Mazar-i-Sharif.


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