UNITED NATIONS - The United States and Britain are being accused of undermining
the work of international humanitarian organizations in Afghanistan by misusing
aid to advance their military interests.
"There are times when aid agencies need the support of the military as
in Bosnia but we are concerned about the increased involvement of the U.S.
and UK military in the provision of aid," says Caroline Green of Oxfam International.
"Our impartiality is vital for us to carry out our work on the ground but
this has become undermined by the United States giving aid to people not on
the basis of need but in exchange for information," Green told IPS.
Besides aid agencies, humanitarian assistance including food aid and relief
supplies have also been provided by coalition forces, including the United
States, United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy, according to the U.S. State
"Communities that we work with have become confused as the lines between aid
agencies and the military have become blurred in Afghanistan," Green added.
As a result of the U.S. engaging in "aid for information," Oxfam
was forced to close its program in Kandahar in 2003, she said.
Those charges have been strongly endorsed by several other international aid
organizations, including Medecins sans Frontieres
(MSF or Doctors Without Borders), Christian Aid and Concern Worldwide.
Last week, MSF pulled out of Afghanistan after having provided humanitarian
assistance there for nearly 24 years. The reasons for the organization's withdrawal
included a deterioration of the security environment in Afghanistan and, more
importantly, the misuse of humanitarian aid by U.S. military forces in the country.
MSF also said it was unhappy with the lack of progress in a government investigation
of the killing of five of its aid workers in the northern province of Baghdis
in June, presumably by insurgents. MSF, which employed about 1,400 local staff
and 80 international staff, ended all its operations last week.
"In Afghanistan, the U.S.-backed coalition has constantly sought to use
and co-opt humanitarian assistance to build support for its military and political
ambitions," says Michael Neuman, program officer at MSF.
"By doing so, providing aid is no longer perceived as being a neutral
and impartial act, and this is endangering humanitarian aid workers and this
is jeopardizing assistance to the Afghan people the assistance which
is needed," Neuman told IPS.
In May last year, MSF complained to the United States and other coalition forces
about the distribution of a leaflet in southern Afghanistan that included a
picture of a young Afghan girl carrying a bag of wheat.
The leaflet said that if humanitarian assistance was to continue, Afghans needed
to pass information to the soldiers about all insurgent forces in the country,
including remnants of the the former Taliban regime and members of the al-Qaeda
Neuman said MSF has been raising general concerns about the blurring of humanitarian
and military objectives for years. "We have done this is at meetings with officials
for different countries, including the United States and UK," he added.
Wherever there are coalition forces or even UN agencies mixing
political and humanitarian mandates, "you will continue to see a danger
for impartial, neutral and humanitarian action," he said.
"Humanitarian assistance is only possible when armed actors respect the safety
of humanitarian actors. This is why we are calling on the coalition to cease
all activity which tries to put humanitarian aid in the service of their political
and military objectives,"Neuman added.
The coalition in Afghanistan, also called the combined joint task force, includes
troops or logistical support from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia,
Canada, Belgium, Jordan, Norway, New Zealand, Denmark, Italy, Germany and France.
Green said Oxfam International respects
the decision of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) to withdraw from Afghanistan.
"We understand why MSF feels that their position has become untenable.
Oxfam International is gravely concerned about the deteriorating security situation
in Afghanistan, which is increasingly affecting the ability for humanitarian
and development organizations to work."
"We are also concerned about the inability of the government and the international
community to do anything about the situation," Green added.
In 2004, six staff members from Oxfam partner organizations have been killed
in attacks in provinces previously considered to be relatively safe.
"However we feel strongly that Oxfam is providing important services to the
poor people of Afghanistan and the risks we face are currently manageable and
we feel that we are able to continue working in Afghanistan," continue Green.
Most aid organizations and UN agencies have pulled out their international
staff from another violence-ridden country Iraq primarily because
of the security situation there.
Green said Oxfam decided to cease direct operations in the occupied country
in April. "We had already withdrawn all international staff from Iraq in
August 2003 after the bombing of the UN headquarters. The deteriorating security
situation has made it virtually impossible for our staff to work effectively
and this is why we made the decision to end our operations there," she
Just after the bombing, which killed over 20 UN employees, including Undersecretary-General
Sergio Vieira de Mello, the United Nations withdrew all of its international
staff from Iraq. They are currently operating out of Jordan and Cyprus.
"The issue of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), military and humanitarian
work is not a new one," Manoel de Almeida e Silva, a UN spokesman in Kabul,
told reporters last week. "It is not new in Afghanistan and it is not new
He said it was an issue that NGOs have raised "with great concern, and we
at the United Nations have played a role in facilitating and helping in the
dialogue between the military and the NGOs," he added.
U.S. President George W. Bush told reporters Monday he regretted MSF's decision
to close shop in Afghanistan.
But at the same time he trumpeted the fact that more than 8.6 million Afghans
had registered as voters for October presidential elections, 90 percent of those
eligible, according to the United Nations.
(Inter Press Service)