Red Cross ‘drastically reduces’ presence in Afghanistan

The aid agency’s decision to downsize its activities comes after series of fatal attacks targeted its staff.

The ICRC has been working in Afghanistan for the past three decades [Rahmat Gul/The Associated Press]

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has decided to “drastically reduce” its presence in Afghanistan after a series of deadly attacks on its staff, the aid agency said in a statement on Monday.

Monica Zanarelli, the head of delegation for the ICRC, told Al Jazeera that the decision will affect mostly the northern part of the country, where facilities in Kunduz, Faryab, and Balkh provinces would be closed or downsized.

“We will downsize our main office in Mazar-i-Sharif and also looking at possible handing over of our orthopaedic centre if we get a suitable solution for that,” Zanarelli said.

“Our operation across the country, however, will continue.”

She said that the last three serious incidents this year in which seven ICRC staff were killed and three others were kidnapped prompted the charity to take the decision.

Officials from the charity say the assessments are ongoing and could not say how many of its 1,800 staff would be affected.

The ICRC has been working in Afghanistan for the past three decades, but attacks against them have escalated, with seven killed this year so far. It reaches to tens of thousands of vulnerable people in remote areas.

“We are going to keep operating like we did in the past. However, we will have to look much more seriously at our exposure to risk. Security of our staff has become a priority nowadays,” Zanarelli told Al Jazeera from Kabul, the Afghan capital.

The announcement underlines the deteriorating security for aid groups in Afghanistan, with the rise of Taliban and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, known as ISIS).

In February, the organisation put all of its operations on hold after six of its staff were killed in an attack on an aid convoy in the far north.

Last month, a Spanish Red Cross physiotherapist working in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif was shot dead by one of her patients.

In addition, three of its staff have been abducted over the past year.

According to US military estimates, the government controls no more than 60 percent of the country, with the rest either controlled or contested by the Taliban and other armed groups.

Source: Al Jazeera