Afghan conflict: Red Cross forced to scale down

The International Red Cross is to drastically reduce its presence in Afghanistan after seven of its staff were killed in attacks this year.

Two ICRC offices will close and a third will see operations scaled down.

The ICRC country head said the "painful decision" meant people in the north would no longer get help they needed.

She stressed the Red Cross would not leave Afghanistan, but said the organisation had to limit the risks faced by its staff.

Many other humanitarian organisations have pulled out of Afghanistan in recent years as Taliban and so-called Islamic State militants have stepped up attacks.

In February six Red Cross employees were shot dead by unidentified gunmenin northern Jowzjan province. Two others were abducted and later released.

Last month a Red Cross physiotherapist was killed by a patient in Mazar-e Sharif.

"After internal discussions with our highest level at the headquarters, we have reached the conclusion that we have no choice but to drastically reduce our presence and activities, and in particular in the north of Afghanistan," the ICRC head in Afghanistan Monica Zanarelli said.

"Exposure to risk has become our greatest challenge and concern. We know that there is no zero risk in Afghanistan and we are not aiming at that. Our security is built on acceptance and dialogue and acceptance comes from meaningful services that can be provided to vulnerable people."

ICRC offices in Maimana and Kunduz will be closed while the rehabilitation centre in Mazar-e Sharif will stay open, but the plan is to hand over its running to local partners.

The ICRC has worked in Afghanistan for 30 years. Its operation in the country is the ICRC's fourth largest worldwide, with about 1,800 staff offering medical assistance, helping disabled people and visiting inmates in jail as well as enabling them to keep in contact with their families.

In some areas, particularly in the north, the ICRC is the only international group offering such services.

"We understand the consequences to stop our activities in the north but we have no choice," Ms Zanarelli said.


Photo copyright EPA (Caption: The most recent ICRC tragedy in Afghanistan saw a Spanish aid worker killed)