KABUL - Military development and aid work in Afghanistan is making it more risky for non-governmental organisations to carry out humanitarian operations, an NGO said on Saturday after insurgents killed three foreign aid workers.
International and Afghan forces are increasingly involved in building schools, clinics and wells, and in emergency aid work in some of the most volatile parts of Afghanistan, as part of counter-insurgency efforts aimed at winning popular support.
But aid workers say that creates confusion among ordinary Afghans and means Taliban insurgents often see them as working for the pro-Western Afghan government and international forces.
Asked about the issue, George Rupp, president of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), said: "You are correct in identifying the shrinking of humanitarian space and the problems of confusions between the military and humanitarian purposes of foreigners who are here.
"The International Rescue Committee is firmly committed to protecting humanitarian space and distinguishing humanitarian workers from any military employees," he told a news conference.
Taliban militants killed three foreign women working for IRC as they were travelling through the province of Logar, just south of the capital Kabul, on Wednesday.
The Taliban said they killed the three in revenge for the deaths in July of 47 people, mainly women and children, in a U.S.-led coalition airstrike on a wedding party.
"We should say that on the surface these employees were engaged in public services, but in reality they were in the service of the international invaders -- they were serving the enemies of the Afghans, especially of Afghan women," the Taliban said in statement on the group's website.
International forces see their aid work as a key part of efforts to win the support of the Afghan population, and point out that most of their projects are in the most volatile parts of the country, where aid agencies seldom operate.
But NGOs say the foreign troops should stick to purely military operations.
"There are very real, ethical and operational concerns that arise from the confusion between humanitarian and political or military objectives," said Ciaran Donnelly, IRC country director for Afghanistan.
Violence has surged in Afghanistan as the Islamist Taliban step up their campaign of guerrilla attacks and roadside and suicide bombs aimed at sapping support for the Afghan government and its Western backers. Some 2,500 people have been killed this year, 1,000 of them civilians, aid agencies say.
Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by Catherine Evans
© 2008 Reuters