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Red Cross Providing First Aid Training to Taliban

The International Committee of the Red Cross is defending its practice of providing first aid training courses to Taliban militants in Afghanistan. The ICRC says as a neutral organization, it is obliged under international humanitarian law to provide medical assistance to all sides in an armed conflict.

The International Committee of the Red Cross is unapologetic about its role in providing first aid training to Taliban militants. ICRC spokesman, Christian Cardon, tells VOA assisting people during armed conflict is the core of its mandate. He says this includes civilians as well as fighters.

He says the ICRC has been running first aid courses for armed opposition fighters and Afghan police and security forces for almost four years.

"I think it is important also to mention if you refer to international humanitarian law there are clear rules saying that any persons that do not participate in the hostilities such as, I would say, wounded combatants should be protected," said Cardon. "And, this is also one of the reasons why ICRC tries to be as much as possible involved in organizing basic first aid courses. As I say, not only with the opposition groups, but also with the authorities of the country."

Cardon says the ICRC runs similar sessions in other conflict-ridden countries as well.

The Swiss humanitarian agency reports it trained more than 70 members of the armed opposition and more than 100 Afghan security forces last month. It says it also provided first-aid kits to fighters and civilians in conflict areas.

Cardon says the ICRC is able to work with the two sides in a conflict because of its neutral position and because it is absolutely transparent about its activities.

"In Afghanistan it is the same rule that applies, that we go and meet people from the government," he said. "We go and meet people from, of course, the NATO. We go and meet people from the armed opposition and tell them about what we do with them, of course. But, also what we do with other parties in the conflict. So, that is very important for us to make sure that everyone involved in the conflict will really understand what we do."

Cordon says a recent statement from NATO strongly supports the role the ICRC is playing in Afghanistan. He says the statement stresses the impartiality with which the agency operates in such a difficult environment.