Afghanistan: Poor security in the southeast hampers humanitarian aid

ISLAMABAD, 7 February (IRIN) - International aid agencies remain cautions following the recent spate of violence in southeastern Afghanistan. "We are curtailing the staff movements and operations in the outlying areas," James White, South Asia director of the-US based NGO, Mercy Crops, told IRIN in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, on Friday.
"Recently there has been a pretty significant increase in insecurity around [the southeastern city of] Kandahar that is concerning and disturbing," he said, adding that some violent incidents had targeted international aid agencies in the area.

AP reported on Wednesday that a gun battle had left at least eight combatants dead in Almesh, about 120 km east of Kandahar, where some 200 government soldiers were attacked. The attack may have been the work of Taliban forces or militants loyal to the renegade Afghan warlord, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. The Afghan government forces also clashed with suspected Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters in the mountainous area of Shawali Kot, 15 km north of Kandahar city.

In a press statement on 29 January, the international NGO, Action Against Hunger, said a device containing TNT explosive had been thrown at its office in Kandahar. It damaged the building without causing any injuries. On 31 January, a landmine blamed on anti-government forces killed some 18 bus passengers in Kandahar.

Prior to that, on 27 January, at least 18 militants were killed some 24 km northeast of Spin Buldak, near the border with Pakistan, after being pounded by mortars, helicopter fire and bombs by US-led coalition troops.

According to White, the insecurity was not limited to Kandahar; aid agencies were also concerned about a lack of security in the neighbouring Helmand, Zabol and Oruzgan provinces. "Our concerns are about the entire southeast and not just Kandahar alone," he said.

The UN is also cautiously monitoring the situation. "Road missions to areas in Zabol Province which border Pakistan are on hold for the time being until we get clarity on what the situation is," Ahmed Munier, the coordinator for southern Afghanistan for the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA), told IRIN from Kandahar.

He said some NGOs working there had suspended operations, and this was having an impact on assistance for the extremely poor and vulnerable province. "We are watching the situation, and we are being cautious," he said, adding that it was unclear who was responsible for the fighting.

Kandahar's fledgling administration was doing its best to improve the situation. "We are getting support from the local authorities, who have been very responsive." Munier said. The government was reportedly reinforcing its security personnel and had initiated more stringent measures at checkpoints.


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