Afghanistan NGO Security Advisors' commentary
Let’s start with the grim figures. 24 Aid workers were killed in Afghanistan in 2006, of which 19 were direct NGO staff members. All of the casualties in 2006 have been National staff members of National and International NGOs. Looking at the casualties of 2003 (12), 2004 (24) and 2005 (31) and now 2006, Afghanistan has the highest death toll amongst the Aid Community worldwide, to my knowledge.
So far in 2006, around 100 incidences directly involving NGOs have been reported from all around the country. While many people link this directly to the ongoing insurgency in the Southern and South-Eastern part of the country, it is notable that of the casualties, only one had been killed in the South while all the other casualties have occurred in the Northern and Western parts of Afghanistan.
The main cause for all the deaths and incidences mentioned above was not the insurgency, but personal/tribal/ethnic/"business” conflicts. The lack of a safe and secure environment (security and judicial) provided by the host government as well as the International military presence, the acceptance of using violence to settle personal disputes and the fractional society structure all play a major part of creating a very complex environment for NGOs to operate in.
Unfortunately, we are starting to see the first targeted attacks, where the target was the NGO and not an individual who happened to work for an NGO. That said; many NGOs have reduced their field staff in the areas of the ongoing insurgency in order to protect them from becoming collateral damage and project implementation is becoming increasingly difficult in areas of high intensity fighting. Even more dangerous are press statements by the International military, indicating that one of the aims of their large scale operations is to provide space for the Humanitarian community to work in. Statements like these endanger NGO staff in the field as the insurgents may then link NGOs to military operations.
Because of their type of work, nationality or the place where they work, many NGOs have become complacent and some staff members seem to have forgotten the context they were living/working in. The targeted attacks on NGOs in the North of Afghanistan and the riots in Kabul on 29 May 06 have served as a wake up call to many NGOs for some time, but already the first signs of complacency are showing up again.