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Why the Taliban Targets Aid Workers

The Taliban, on Wednesday 13 August, killed 3 female aid workers plus their driver. Some of the women had dual citizenship and bore passports from Britain, Canada, the US, and Trinidad. Their driver was from Kabul.

The aid workers represented the International Rescue Committee. This is the second such attack the organization has suffered in a little over a year. The IRC has announced it is suspending its activities in Afghanistan, after 20 years of presence in the country. For an organization that had previously succeeded to work under the Taliban regime to withdraw is sign of the growing insecurity in the country. The attack took place close to the capital, Kabul, in a region considered relatively safe.

Western aid agencies in Afghanistan have increasingly restricted the scope of their projects, have been pulling out of the most dangerous areas in the south of the country, and are cutting staff. Agencies are reportedly considering limiting their activity in the area that the IRC workers were recently killed. That NGOs would consider pulling out of a region about only 100 km distance from the capital is proof of rampant chaos and insecurity.

The targeting of aid workers is a strategy that has benefited the Taliban.

As aid workers pull out of large regions of Afghanistan there is reduced open source intelligence in those regions, as the aid workers are not present to report on how people are fairing there or relay what may be the dimensions of insecurity and militant activity in the most dangerous parts of the country.

As more and more NGOs pull out or restrict their activity, and as western civilians are killed, it becomes more evident that violence has not reduced despite NATO and US attempts and claims otherwise. These sensational deaths underscore the growing strength of the Taliban, and ensures that this expansion is reported in international media, making it increasingly difficult for NATO/US and the Afghan government to claim success.

(Source: Senlis)

As less services and aid reach large regions of the country, it is not often the Taliban that bears the brunt of the blame in the local’s eyes. When people have decreasing access to to health care, water, and other core state services the West and the Afghan government is increasingly being seen as culpable.

Even though it is the Taliban that targets those who can deliver life saving services, local people often blame the presence of Western military in the region as a catalyst in a conflict that is increasingly threatening citizens’ daily lives. This war, after all, is only heating up and security is decreasing despite extended Western military presence. Meanwhile, the lack of infrastructure and social services undermines the legitimacy of the Afghan government. It becomes difficult to claim the right to be a national government when you cannot deliver national services. This undermines NATO/US efforts, as popular frustration and anger with Western military presence escalates and the Afghan government is seen as powerless.

So, while the conflict is in full heat, the less aid and social services reach people from the West or from the Afghan government, the better for the Taliban. Not surprising then that the Taliban would want to target aid workers.

The latest successful militant attacks in or near Kabul help underscore the weakness of both NATO and the Afghanistan’s government. Kabul, the capital, is supposed to be secure; it’s the symbol of government power and the heart of its influence. If the capital is insecure then the Afghan people cannot help but be aware that the Taliban is not a force to be trifled with, and that its opponents have been highly ineffective, are weak or are not really serious about getting things right.

  1. August 22, 2008 at 1:49 pm

    Are the Taliban growing in strength or just viciousness?

    As I see it, the Taliban have changed tactics and are now targeting aid workers which is a strategy that hasn’t been used in the past. Such acts are absolutely despicable. And the attacks will continue until all aid programs cease, eventually forcing NATO out of Afghanistan.

    I don’t view this as a position of strength for the Taliban but rather a position of weakness. Targets are becoming softer and softer (er…except for the 10 French paratroopers that were killed earlier this week.)

    Sadly, all you have to do is kill your regular citizens to ruin any chance of stabilizing the country. Depots throughout history have demonstrated this time and again.

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