The International Committee of the Red Cross announced Monday it hopes to start sending regular convoys of medical supplies to Afghanistan. Over the weekend, a convoy of supplies got through to the Afghan capital, Kabul, and that has encouraged the agency to attempt to send more.
The Red Cross truck arrived in Kabul on Saturday, bringing with it enough urgently needed medical supplies to treat 500 war wounded. This was the first convoy of medical supplies to reach Afghanistan since ICRC foreign staff was forced to pull out of the country three weeks ago. Before the staff left, the Red Cross said it only had enough supplies to last for one month.
ICRC's chief of Asian Operations, Jean-Michel Monod, says the humanitarian organization now hopes to be able to carry out similar cross-border trips to Kabul and other cities on a regular basis from neighboring countries. However, he says the Red Cross will not send food to Afghanistan because that would be too risky. "When you send medical supplies, even if the monitoring is not 100 percent, odds are that these medical supplies will be used for sick and wounded," he said. "Now if you send food in, it is a totally different situation because food might very well be diverted to combatants, and ICRC is not in the business of feeding combatants, one side or the other. We want to reach the civilian population who should be our sole targets."
The ICRC supports 18 hospitals throughout Afghanistan with medicines and surgical supplies. It also operates orthopedic centers and workshops that create artificial limbs for landmine victims. Mr. Monod says he fears there will be many more landmine casualties as large numbers of Afghans move around the country in search of food or try to flee the country before a possible military attack.
Since the 27 foreign workers left Afghanistan, Red Cross programs have been run by the one-thousand Afghan employees within the country. Mr. Monod says they are doing a good job, but he says it is important the expatriate staff return to the country as soon as possible. This is because there are certain sensitive tasks that the Afghans cannot do, such as visits to prisoners. "Before we had to leave Afghanistan, the ICRC was paying such visits to roughly 5,000 combatants on both sides being detained, either by the Northern Alliance or by the Taleban," he said. "These people, to the best of my knowledge, are still being detained. Then, you have the eight foreigners of Shelter Now International who were also visited by the ICRC before their relatives and the diplomats from their respective embassies in Islamabad were allowed to see them."
Mr. Monod says the Red Cross is worried about the condition of the imprisoned Shelter Now workers. The 8 foreign workers, along with 16 of their Afghan co-workers, have been charged by Taleban authorities with trying to convert Afghans from Islam to Christianity.
Mr. Monod says the ICRC also wants access to a British journalist who was reportedly arrested in Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan over the weekend.