Red Cross to withdraw foreign staff from Afghanistan following attack

by Reuters
Tuesday, 4 June 2013 07:31 GMT

By Dylan Welch

KABUL, June 4 (Reuters) - The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is removing some international staff and curtailing operations in Afghanistan following last week's fatal attack on their Jalalabad compound, a spokesman said on Tuesday.

The ICRC has held emergency meetings since the May 29 attack in the east of the country in which an Afghan guard was shot dead and three people, including one international staff member, were wounded.

Seven international staff were rescued from the compound by police as a group of suicide bombers and gunmen went on a rampage, shooting and throwing grenades at staff members.

One of the world's best-known humanitarian agencies, the ICRC works in conflicts around the world.

Its decision to remove international staff from Afghanistan is likely to bring significant unease to the international community in the country. There has already been an increase in attacks on and kidnappings of foreigners as U.S.-led NATO forces prepare to withdraw next year.

"Throughout the country, we are removing some international staff and putting on hold some activities as we gather information and analyse the situation," ICRC Kabul spokesman Robin Waudo said, adding that the change was "temporary".

He would not stipulate how many international staff would leave, nor which activities would be suspended, though he said the ICRC would continue to provide orthopaedic services, support a large hospital in Kandahar and facilitate contacts between detainees and their families.

"The ICRC is committed to assisting those affected by the conflict, but we must weigh this against the security of its staff," Waudo told Reuters.

Waudo said the Jalalabad assault, the first of its kind on the famously impartial agency since it came to Afghanistan in 1987, had "serious implications" for the ICRC's ability to provide humanitarian assistance.

On Friday, the Taliban denied any responsibility for the attack, saying they never target those who "truly serve" the people.

However, senior officials from NATO's International Security Assistance Force and the Afghan government told Reuters they had intelligence that suggested the Taliban was behind the attack.

The ICRC's $90 million a year operation in Afghanistan is one of its biggest, with some 1,800 staff working in 17 offices around the country.

It maintains strict neutrality in protecting civilians in armed conflict and has contact with all sides. The ICRC's medical facility across the border with Pakistan in Peshawar regularly treats insurgents wounded in Afghanistan.

In July 2004 and after 24 years in Afghanistan, the international medical agency Medecins Sans Frontieres announced it was leaving following the murder of five staff, but it returned in 2009.

(Editing by John Chalmers and Ron Popeski)

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