Taliban allows Red Cross to resume operations as militant casualties mount

By Sulaiman

A screenshot from a Taliban video from Faryab Province shows the wreckage caused by a coalition airstrike on a militant vehicle. [File]

A screenshot from a Taliban video from Faryab Province shows the wreckage caused by a coalition airstrike on a militant vehicle. [File]

KABUL -- The Taliban, facing mounting casualties amid increased military pressure, has agreed to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to resume operations in Afghanistan.

The ICRC said in April it had suspended work in Afghanistan after the Taliban demanded that the humanitarian group and the World Health Organisation (WHO) cease their operations in the country.

According to a Taliban statement at the time, the ICRC had not "acted upon its agreements" with the Taliban, and the group accused the WHO of "suspicious movements" during a vaccination campaign.

The Taliban are allowing them to resume their activities only because the militants are under heavy pressure from Afghan and international forces, say Afghan authorities and analysts.

In this photograph taken March 27, Afghan men wearing prosthetics after losing their legs in land mine explosions sit at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) hospital for war victims and the disabled in Kabul. [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

In this photograph taken March 27, Afghan men wearing prosthetics after losing their legs in land mine explosions sit at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) hospital for war victims and the disabled in Kabul. [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

Because of a surge in casualties on the battlefield, the Taliban direly need to collect and transfer their injured fighters to medical facilities, they say.

Insurgents stopped receiving assistance when the Taliban April 13 declined to guarantee the security of the ICRC's workers, according to the ICRC in Kabul.

"We shared the humanitarian situation of Afghanistan with the Taliban in Qatar," Roya Mosawi, a spokesperson for the ICRC in Kabul, said in an interview. "We shared with them the concerns of the Red Cross regarding the humanitarian situation, and we jointly reached an agreement for restarting our operations.".

"After the Taliban released a statement [on September 14 allowing the resumption of services], the Red Cross began their operations," said Mosawi. "We're happy that our humanitarian activities have resumed."

"We'll soon start removing dead bodies from the battlefield, facilitating meetings and phone calls of prisoners with their family members, and transferring the injured to medical facilities," she said.

"Fighting and bombardments that are taking place every day have affected lives, and people have an increased need for Red Cross services," added Mosawi. "We call on parties to the conflict to give us unhindered access so that we can provide health workers, ambulances and other humanitarian aid to those affected on the battlefield based on the international law of war."

Taliban's need for the Red Cross

Increased military pressure on Taliban fighters has resulted in more casualties being inflicted on the group, driving them to seek a resumption of assistance from the ICRC, say analysts.

"The Taliban have given permission to the Red Cross to resume their operations at a time they are undergoing mounting military pressure ... and according to the president, more than 1,000 Taliban fighters have been killed in just one week," said Miagul Wasiq, a political and military affairs analyst in Kabul.

"At the moment, this decision by the Taliban clearly shows that they are in need of ICRC assistance on the battlefield," he added.

"I think the Taliban asked officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross at their meeting to help them in collecting the dead bodies of their fighters and treating their injured fighters," Wasiq said.

The Taliban made a mistake in April when the group forced the ICRC to cease its operations, said Sarah Sharifi, 28-year-old graduate student at a university in Kabul.

"The International Committee of the Red Cross provides humanitarian services to all parties to the conflict and those who are affected by the war, regardless of their tribe, religion, race and gender in conflict-prone countries," Sharifi said. "But the Taliban breached all humanitarian and Islamic values by shutting down the activities of this impartial institution."

"I think the Taliban now need the humanitarian assistance of the International Committee of the Red Cross on the battlefield," Sharifi added. "And it's for that very reason that they have agreed to let workers of the institution [ICRC] restart their activities so that they can help them [the Taliban] in collecting dead bodies and treating their injured fighters."

A surge in Taliban losses has forced the group to seek aid once again from the humanitarian organisation, said Arif Kayani, a political analyst in Kabul.

"Every time the Taliban experience military pressure, they try to manifest some tactical flexibility to lessen the tension on them," he said. "As the Taliban have suffered targeted attacks by Afghan and international forces, they are not in a favourable situation on the battlefield. They have seen heavy casualties, and many of their fighters have been injured."

"There is no doubt that the injured fighters of the Taliban need doctors and health facilities, which don't exist in the Taliban-controlled areas because of bad security," Kayani said. "Now, the Taliban want to pursue two key goals with their decision regarding the ICRC: ensure treatment for their injured fighters and show a flexible approach toward national and international aid and relief agencies."

A surge in military pressure

"Air and ground offensives along with special and night operations have increased on the Taliban in an unprecedented way, and they have seen a multifold increase in casualties," said Fawad Aman, a deputy spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence. "On a daily basis, they leave dozens of dead bodies of their fighters on the battlefield."

"It is obvious that the Taliban need the assistance of relief agencies to remove the bodies of their fighters and evauate their injured fighters from the battlefield, and they might have given permission to the workers of the ICRC to resume their activities for this particular reason," Aman said in an interview.

More than 100 Taliban fighters are killed every day and the insurgent group has ceded control of much of its territory, according to Aman.

"Much of the territory has been recently cleansed of the Taliban," he said. "Six months ago, the Taliban were in an offensive mode, but now they're under pressure and ... have switched to a defensive mode."

Baqi Samandar, a civil society activist in Kabul, considered the suspension of the ICRC operations in April unjustifiable and warned that the Taliban will not keep their promises.

"The resumption of the ICRC operations is a great step, but the Taliban are not trustworthy as they had given similar promises in the past as well, and they didn't remain committed to their pledges," Samandar said.

"Several times we saw that the Taliban stopped the operations of international aid agencies and even targeted and shot to death their workers," he added.

"The Taliban have proved by blindly attacking civilians and impartial relief agencies that they don't believe in any international conventions of armed conflict," he said. "As they do not accept any law of war, it has created suspicion whether they will keep their promises to the international relief agencies."

Aman, the deputy spokesperson for the Defence Ministry, agreed.

"The Taliban were never committed to their words," he said. "Several times they have promised that they wouldn't harm civilians, public installations or aid agencies, but we saw that they reneged. They killed civilians, attacked and ruined public property and murdered the workers of international aid agencies."

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