Violence is So Bad in Kabul that Red Cross Clinics are Shutting their Doors

An Afghan man who lost his leg to a landmine tries out his new prosthetic leg inside a Red Cross orthopedic center in Kabul. (Antonio Olivo/The Washington Post)
An Afghan man who lost his leg to a landmine tries out his new prosthetic leg inside a Red Cross orthopedic center in Kabul. (Antonio Olivo/The Washington Post)
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Violence is So Bad in Kabul that Red Cross Clinics are Shutting their Doors

An Afghan man who lost his leg to a landmine tries out his new prosthetic leg inside a Red Cross orthopedic center in Kabul. (Antonio Olivo/The Washington Post)
An Afghan man who lost his leg to a landmine tries out his new prosthetic leg inside a Red Cross orthopedic center in Kabul. (Antonio Olivo/The Washington Post)

A smiling physiotherapist beams in a framed photo inside the Red Cross ­center here, hinting at the radiant personality that charmed her orthopedic patients before a man with polio took out a gun hidden in his wheelchair and killed her.

The slaying of Lorena Enebral Perez at a clinic in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif followed the roadside killing of six Afghans working for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and three abductions in the past year, part of a spike in violence by smaller militias and by the terror group Taliban that has led to more than 200 deaths in the past week.

That violence has prompted the international aid agency to shut down two of its offices in the northern part of the country and to scale down operations in Mazar-e Sharif — a decision that will affect hundreds of thousands of Afghans who receive aid from the organization in seven northern provinces.

“The places where you have war and insecurity are the places where your help is needed,” said Alberto Cairo, a doctor who during the early 1990s spearheaded the creation of the ICRC’s orthopedic program, which treats 160,000 people annually across the country. “At the same time, you cannot deliver it. If we cannot guarantee the security of our staff, how can we work?”

So far this year, there have been 107 attacks on health facilities, up from 41 last year, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Fifteen aid workers have been killed in attacks, and an additional 43 have been abducted this year, down from 121 kidnappings the year before.

The orthopedic center’s roughly 8,500 patients who have lost legs to war or stray land mines, plus an additional 17,500 who have problems walking because of cerebral palsy, polio and other ailments, will still be able to receive treatment at the Mazar-e Sharif clinic. But the approximately 675,000 other Afghans who rely on the ICRC for food, water or medical aid in
the north will be left without options until the Afghan government or a different aid group fills the gap.

With US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson calling on Pakistan to help force the Taliban into peace negotiations amid a surge of 4,000 more U.S. troops, the militant group is fighting for a stronger presence outside its southern strongholds.

In that setting, more aid workers in areas once considered relatively safe have become targets for attacks or abductions. Meanwhile, more people need help.

In the past 12 months, 8,000 civilians have either died or been injured by military operations, down slightly from a peak of 8,500 in the previous year, according to the United Nations.

UN officials say humanitarian aid groups are trying to strike a balance by limiting their operations in some areas or prioritizing services to meet only the most urgent demands.

“We have to put the oxygen mask on ourselves before we can help others,” said Toby Lanzer, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Afghanistan. “I think, for the time being, you will see a reduction of aid in some of the areas where aid agencies have been hit.”

The erosion of security in the north has multiple causes, security analysts say.

In the hostile province of Kunduz, fighting between the Taliban and government forces has led to instability all around, making it harder for aid groups to know who is in charge. Elsewhere, smaller renegade groups — some of whom claim affiliation with ISIS — have taken hold in areas not under firm control of the government or the Taliban.

Those groups are behind many of the aid worker abductions and the attacks on medical facilities, said Obaid Ali, a director with the Afghan Analysts Network, who focuses on security issues in the north.

“They are small groups who work under their own flag, and in many cases, they refuse to obey Taliban rule and honor local culture,” Ali said. In the case of abductions, “it’s really hard, and it’s really dangerous to approach these people and discuss terms with them.

The increased instability revealed itself to the ICRC in December when a Spanish member of the staff was abducted by a group of gunmen while traveling from Kunduz to Mazar-e Sharif. The man was held for a month before the ICRC negotiated his release.

The Washington Post

Exclusive for Asharq Al-Awsat



Iran Presidential Hopefuls Debate Economy Ahead of Election

Presidential candidate Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf speaks during a campaign event in Tehran, Iran June 18, 2024. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters
Presidential candidate Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf speaks during a campaign event in Tehran, Iran June 18, 2024. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters
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Iran Presidential Hopefuls Debate Economy Ahead of Election

Presidential candidate Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf speaks during a campaign event in Tehran, Iran June 18, 2024. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters
Presidential candidate Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf speaks during a campaign event in Tehran, Iran June 18, 2024. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters

The six candidates vying to succeed ultraconservative president Ebrahim Raisi, who died in a helicopter crash, focused on revitalizing Iran's sanctions-hit economy in their first debate ahead of next week's election.

The contenders -- five conservatives and a sole reformer -- faced off in a four-hour live debate, vowing to address the financial challenges affecting the country's 85 million people.

Originally slated for 2025, the election was moved forward after Raisi's death on May 19 in a helicopter crash in northern Iran.

Long before the June 28 election, Iran had been grappling with mounting economic pressures, including international sanctions and soaring inflation.

"We will strengthen the economy so that the government can pay salaries according to inflation and maintain their purchasing power," conservative presidential hopeful Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf said.

Ghalibaf, Iran's parliament speaker, also pledged to work towards removing crippling US sanctions reimposed after then US president Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal.

Iran's economy grew by 5.7 percent in the year to March 2024, with authorities targeting a further eight percent growth this year, driven by hydrocarbon exports.

The sole reformist candidate, Massoud Pezeshkian, said he would seek to build regional and global relations to achieve this growth.

He also called for easing internet restrictions in the country where Facebook, Instagram, Telegram and X are among the social media platforms banned.

Reformists, whose political influence has waned in the years since the 1979 revolution, have fallen in behind Pezeshkian after other moderate hopefuls were barred from standing.

Ultraconservative former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, however, said Iran did not need to repair its relations with the West.

He took aim at Trump, saying his policy of "maximum pressure" against Iran had "failed miserably".

- 'Maximum pressure' -

In the absence of opinion polls, Ghalibaf, Jalili and Pezeshkian are seen as the frontrunners for Iran's second highest-ranking job.

Ultimate authority in the state is wielded by the supreme leader rather the president with 85-year-old Ali Khamenei holding the post for 35 years.

Incumbent Vice President Amirhossein Ghazizadeh-Hashemi said during the debate he would seek to lower inflation following a "political leadership style similar to that of Martyr Raisi."

Raisi easily won Iran's 2021 election in which no reformist or moderate figures were allowed to run. Backed by Khamenei he had been tipped to possibly replace the supreme leader.

Iran’s relations with the West continued to suffer, particularly following the outbreak of the October 7 Gaza war.

Tehran's support for the Palestinian armed group Hamas, coupled with ongoing diplomatic tensions over Iran's nuclear program have hastened the decline.

Mostafa Pourmohammadi, the only cleric in the running, blamed international sanctions for "blocking the economy" and "making financial transactions impossible".

Tehran's conservative mayor, Alireza Zakani, said the US sanctions were "cruel" but were not the main problem behind Iran's economic hardship.

"We should emphasize the economic independence of the country, de-dollarize the economy and rely on our own national currency," he said.