New York Times Examines Debate Over Aid Strategy In Afghanistan

“At least 100 relief workers in Afghanistan have been killed so far this year, far more than in any previous year, prompting a debate within humanitarian organizations about whether American military strategy is putting them and the Afghans they serve at unnecessary risk. … Has American counterinsurgency strategy militarized the delivery of aid?” the New York Times writes looking at the different perspectives in this debate.

According to the article, most of the deaths were people hired by NATO countries, largely USAID contractors, who “work[ed] from heavily guarded military compounds and are generally escorted by troops from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force,” and 220 were wounded between January and November of this year. “By contrast, 20 people employed by charitable and humanitarian groups,  which refuse to use armed guards or work with the military, were killed during the first nine months of this year,” according to the New York Times.

“The military and its supporters say the difference in body counts only reflects the fact that the aid contractors work in dangerous areas where many nongovernmental organizations are unwilling to operate. Nongovernmental organizations vigorously disagree. ‘We are in 26 provinces,’ said Ashley Jackson of Oxfam, ‘and in Arghandab there are four N.G.O.’s working on health care and education.'”

“Part of the problem is the definition of humanitarian aid. Traditionally it means life-saving emergency assistance, but the distinction is often unclear. Providing medical care for disaster victims, for instance, is clearly humanitarian, but building a medical clinic for war victims could be considered either humanitarian or developmental aid, properly within the scope of the civil-military effort,” the newspaper writes. Some aid groups also criticize the U.N., “which they accuse of failing in its responsibility to make sure aid efforts are not militarized. Earl Gast of USAID, Michiel Hofman of Doctors Without Borders in Afghanistan, and the U.N.’s Robert Watson, are also quoted in the piece (Nordland, 12/13).