Afghanistan has been at the top of many agendas this week: In the Hague, an international conference on Afghanistan met on Tuesday to discuss how to improve international efforts there; on Friday, the country will most likely dominate the NATO summit in Strasbourg, with plans for more troops. Meanwhile aid agencies fear the suffering of ordinary civilians in Afghanistan may be neglected, as the campaign against the Taleban moves up a gear.
Caught in the cross fire: Afghan civilians
The number of civilians being killed in Afghanistan’s widening conflict is rising every year. Now aid agencies are starting to speak out. Jacques de Maio, director of operations for South Asia with the International Committee of the Red Cross, says the situation has become so bad that thousands of people are going without any help at all.
"The conflict dynamics in Afghanistan are proving to deteriorate", he says. "We know for a fact that there are tens of thousands of internally displaced people, there are hundreds of detainees, hundreds of war wounded and people, who are sick in the context of armed violence or insecurity that are not being attended to. There is a widening gap between the humanitarian needs and the humanitarian response!"
Concerns over troops surge
One thing that particularly concerns the aid agencies is the new emphasis on a bigger military presence in Afghanistan. President Barack Obama has committed to that: He says Afghanistan is a war America must win. For the Red Cross and other humanitarian organisations working in the country, that’s not necessarily good news -- because, says Jacques de Maio, civilians will inevitably be caught once again in the cross fire.
"We definitely anticipate that the reviewed strategies by the international community paves the way for increased combat", says de Maio. "We are concerned that there will be more displaced, more wounded, more people killed in the context of armed hostilities, more detainees, more injured persons. And we are calling on everybody to support the humanitarian effort and not to focus exclusively on political, military and diplomatic ambitions!"
Other agencies join Red Cross in warning
So as NATO leaders gather in Strasbourg, some of the world’s leading aid agencies, among them Oxfam, Save the Children and Care, are set to release a hard hitting set of recommendations for the generals. Their report, entitled ‘Caught in the Conflict’ will draw attention to the rising number of civilian deaths in Afghanistan, many of them caused by NATO airstrikes.
It will call for major new steps to minimise harm to civilians. And it will demand independent investigation of civilian deaths and financial compensation for bereaved families. It won’t make especially welcome reading for NATO top brass already wondering where they will find the extra troops - but, the aid agencies insist, there can be no sustainable peace in Afghanistan if the needs and suffering of the civilian population are neglected.