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Aid Group to Leave Afghanistan over Security Problems - 2004-07-28

A Nobel Prize-winning aid group is pulling its staff out of Afghanistan after two decades of work there, citing security problems. Doctors Without Borders is also criticizing the involvement in humanitarian work by the U.S.-led military coalition in Afghanistan.

The medical relief organization Doctors Without Borders said Wednesday it is suspending indefinitely its Afghan operations in response to the killing of five of its staff last month.

The three foreign and two Afghan workers died in a road ambush in northwest Afghanistan, a normally safe part of the country.

The group expressed disappointed with a subsequent Afghan government investigation into the incident.

Conditions for relief workers in Afghanistan continue to grow more dangerous, as anti-government insurgents seek to disrupt aid flows, especially at a time when the country is preparing for its first post-war election.

"Certainly the security situation has deteriorated significantly this year," said Paul Stromberg, a repatriation coordinator for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. "All aid workers are in a sense caught up in that."

Doctors Without Borders also renewed complaints that the U.S.-led military coalition, helping provide security and reconstruction assistance in Afghanistan, is causing an indirect threat to aid groups.

In May, the group had said the military's relief activities, through its so-called Provincial Reconstruction Units, are an attempt "to usurp and misrepresent the provision of humanitarian aid."

It said that by blurring the line between military and relief work, the U.S. military is making aid workers a target for attacks by those opposed to the military presence.

Speaking Wednesday, U.S. military spokesman Major Jon Siepmann defended the coalition's humanitarian work, saying it is as vital as the military's efforts to provide security.

"There is a great international effort here on all fronts, military being one part of that. But certainly the rebuilding effort, from our standpoint, is equally as important as the military effort," he said.

But Major Siepmann would not comment directly on the decision by Doctors Without Borders to leave Afghanistan.