Why the ICRC will remain in Afghanistan

The most recent events in Afghanistan have grabbed the attention of the world. Many of those scenes bring with them a sense of heartbreak.

This content was published on August 20, 2021

Afghan civilians have endured decades of conflict, and while we are relieved that Kabul has so far avoided major fighting, we remain mindful of the thousands of civilians wounded and displaced in recent fighting in other urban centres.

AfghanistanExternal link is in the middle of a transition that is difficult for Afghans, and for all of us, to predict the outcome of. But I do know a couple of things for certain.

First, I know that the International Committee of the Red Cross remains committed to the people of Afghanistan. The ICRC has been in the country since 1987, and we will remain in the country in the foreseeable future to continue our work to assist and protect victims of conflict.

The other thing I know is why we are needed – the fact that humanitarian needs are and will remain high. To share one stark example, since 1 August, more than 7,600 patients wounded by weapons have been treated at ICRC-supported facilities around the country. More than 40,000 people wounded by weapons have been treated at ICRC-supported facilities in June, July and August.

Those are shocking numbers, evidence of the severity of recent fighting. And, of course, the people who are grievously wounded by weapons of war often need long and specialized treatment. Their recovery can take years. They must work though services like physical rehabilitation, adjusting to a new prosthetic arm or leg, the mental and emotional adjustments of a new life, but then, ultimately, positive steps forward, such as regaining the ability to walk and advanced workforce training.

Still, even if, as one certainly hopes, the fighting is truly over, our medical teams and physical rehabilitation centres expect to receive patients for months and years to come as they recover from wounds from explosive devices that litter the country, many of them newly laid in recent weeks. It is heartbreaking to see our wards filled with children and young men and women who have lost limbs.

The humanitarian needs in Afghanistan have been high for too long, and those needs, especially in recent years, have not always been met completely.

Given our decades of work in the country, we have long-established relations with the Taliban. The changes in Afghanistan have not changed our relationship with the Taliban, and the current situation doesn’t change the way we seek to operate. The Taliban have given us security guarantees both locally and at the top leadership level to continue our work, including the work carried out by our female colleagues.

Our view is that all wars eventually end. And the humane treatment of civilians and detainees on all sides of the conflict help contribute to a lasting peace, which in turn leads to reduced suffering.

Our plan now is to remain in Afghanistan and to continue to work hand in hand with the Afghan Red Crescent Society to help those whose lives have been scarred by war.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of 

Opinion series publishes op-ed articles by contributors writing on a wide range of topics – Swiss issues or those that impact Switzerland. The selection of articles presents a diversity of opinions designed to enrich the debate on the issues discussed.

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