NEW DELHI (Reuters AlertNet) - The Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) expressed anger on Tuesday at NATO-led troops who used explosives to storm a Red Crescent compound and temporarily detain two aid workers.
Saleem Wardak, manager of the media division of the ARCS, said NATO-led forces attacked their office in Qalat in the southern province of Zabul during a military operation against Taliban insurgents on Friday night.
“There was an attack by the security forces and two staff members were arrested, but were released after 24 hours,” Wardak told AlertNet by telephone.
He said security forces used explosives to break into the compound with the blasts shattering windows and breaking doors.
“It is the first time that the ARCS has been attacked like this and we are very angry about it as we are only here to help the people and what the security forces have done is illegal,” Wardak said.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said it had been looking for a Taliban contact responsible for funding militant activities and transporting improvised explosive device materials and weapons into the area.
“He was discovered hiding in a building later discovered to be a Red Cross office on the compound. Further questioning of the Taliban facilitator revealed he is a relative of a local Red Cross worker,” said an ISAF statement issued on Saturday.
ISAF said one militant was killed during the operation.
However, unconfirmed reports suggested the dead man was an Afghan policeman.
Since U.S.-backed Afghan forces ended the five-year rule of the Islamist Taliban regime in 2001, hundreds of aid agencies have deployed to help respond to the needs of millions of people in a country crippled by a quarter-century of violence.
But attacks by militants persist, hampering relief and reconstruction work in much of the country. Aid workers are increasingly at risk of being targeted for kidnappings and killings from Taliban insurgents, as well being caught up in military operations against the Taliban.
The Swedish Committee for Afghanistan reported that on Sept.2, security personnel forcefully entered a hospital in Wardekprovince, where they broke equipment, tied up employees and forced staff and patients from their beds during an operation.
In August, Afghanistan’s health ministry said a clinic in Paktika province was attacked by NATO-led forces, who believed members of the Taliban were there seeking medical assistance.
Phillip Charlesworth, head of delegation for the International Committee for Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Afghanistan, said he was concerned about the way ISAF was conducting its operations.
“The way the security forces conducted this operation in Qalat was unfortunate, and there were probably other options that they could have been pursued instead of launching an attack on the compound,” said Charlesworth.
“I think its always a concern when organisations like ours get caught up in military operations and it is an issue about respecting our humanitarian space.”
Attacks on aid workers by militants are also on the rise.
On Oct. 28, six U.N. staff were killed when Taliban militants attacked a guesthouse in Kabul. It was the second attack against the United Nations in Afghanistan this year and prompted the world body to temporarily relocate 600 expat staff.
Aid agencies are revising their security arrangements in the wake of the attack.
But many aid workers say their work is unsustainable in this increasingly insecure environment.
“I don’t know what is going to happen, but we are now beginning to wonder how long we can realistically stay here in Afghanistan,” said one aid worker, who did not want to be named.