Archived page: may contain outdated information!
  • Send page
  • Print page

Afghanistan and region: ongoing operations and contingency planning

21-09-2001 Operational Update




 Executive summary  

The security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated dramatically as the country, focus of responses to the 11 September acts of terror in the US, is destabilized by the fear of military intervention. As Afghans flee cities to the countryside or to cross borders, the withdrawal of all international organizations has put into question the relief activities on which the drought-stricken population depends for survival.

The ICRC has temporarily withdrawn all of its expatriate personnel from Afghanistan, until it can obtain renewed security guarantees. Its 1,000 Afghan employees remain within the country, and maintain essential medical activities, directed through the ICRC office in Peshawar. The organization is developing contingency plans to respond to possible developments.
The ICRC urgently requests that any new donor contributions offer the necessary flexibility in time and geographical scope, so that the ICRC can maintain its current activities within Afghanistan and strengthen its capacities to react to new developments.

 Upheaval in Afghanistan  

In response to the tragic September 11 attacks in New York and Washington, attention has turned to Afghanistan, and fear of a military intervention there has led many persons to flee cities for the countryside or nearby borders. Iran and Pakistan have closed their borders to prevent refugee influxes, but unknown numbers of refugees have made it across the border to Pakistan.

The Taliban have decreed that expatriate staff of all international organizations must leave the country, and humanitarian organizations have evacuated expatriate personnel. With limited access to first-hand information it is difficult to ascertain how many people are affected by the current chaos and the disruption of assistance, but with the population already devastated by drought and torn by continuing conflict between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance, the consequences are likely to be grave [1 ] . If the current situation wears on, the collapse of international assistance and a breakdown of trade will leave people unable to meet their survival needs, making large-scale population movements within the country or across borders very likely. Should military operations occur, resident populations and the internally displaced (including those amassed at border areas but unable to cross) could need emergency food and basic material assistance, shelter, water supply and sanitation facilities, and there could be war wounded and separated families.

Most international humanitarian organizations have based their Afghanistan operations in Pakistan. The situation there is becoming tense, with demonstrations sparked by popular opposition to a possible military intervention in Afghanis tan.    


On 12 September the ICRC issued a press release condemning the 11 September attacks. It has created a Crisis Cell in Geneva to coordinate the response of its many operations around the world. In measures adapted to each locality it is working to strengthen staff security, maintain key contacts, and augment logistic capacities to prepare it to better respond to worldwide reactions and their possible consequences. This update focuses on latest developments in the ICRC Afghan Conflict   operation.

Expatriates evacuated  

After the 11 September attacks, the ICRC gradually reduced the expatriate staff levels within Afghanistan. By 16 September, assessments showed severe security risks, and in direct contacts with the delegation the Taliban had advised the ICRC that they were unable to guarantee staff security and advised evacuation; the remaining expatriate staff was evacuated. The withdrawal of the expatriates put all ICRC protection activities and most assistance activities on hold, but did not halt its medical activities.
Since establishing permanent operations there in 1987, this is the first time that the ICRC has fully evacuated its expatriate staff from Afghanistan. In hopes that the evacuation is temporary, it is keeping groups of the evacuated staff on standby in Peshawar, Bangkok, and Geneva so that they can return quickly when the situation permits. Should security guarantees and permission to re-enter be granted, they will return to reinforce operations still running, take up activities in suspension, and evaluate the need for further action.   

Operations continuing within Afghanistan ...  

The ICRC employs some 1,000 locally hired staff in its delegation in Kabul and seven sub-delegations located around the country (see map). It currently has daily radio and telephone contact with Afghan staff in all of these locations. They continue to make deliveries of medicines and materials from ICRC's medical stocks, which are located in Kabul, Ghazni, Mazar, Kandahar, Jalalabad, and Gulbahar. The stocks are sufficient to maintain the current level of assistance for several weeks. Afghan staff also continues to provide services for the disabled in six ICRC physical rehabilitation centres. To strengthen local capacities and reduce dependence on expatriate staff, the ICRC has for some years pursued the strategies of providing medical assistance to existing Afghan facilities, and of turning over management responsibilities to Afghan staff in the orthopaedic facilities it runs. This enables its medical activities to continue to function without expatriate staff.
These and other activities, carried out by Afghan staff and directed from Peshawar or elsewhere, could be maintained for weeks or months if communication and supply lines remain open and the security situation allows locally-hired staff to remain in place.
The ICRC is currently seeking permission to send some expatriates on short-term missions to reinforce Afghan staff and evaluate possibilities for maintaining operations within the country. As long as stocks, personnel and infrastructure remain in place, the ICRC has the capacity to quickly restart its essential operations or establish new ones as the situation dictates.    

 ... and response contingencies  

The ICRC's first priority is to provide protection and emergency assistance for the resident and displaced populations within Afghanistan. It is exploring alternative ways to move needed assistance into the country, focusing on the areas around Herat and Mazar, where drought and the current conflict have already left many displaced, and areas along the Pakistani border where many may try to flee. To cover the possibility of not being able to resume its operations within the country, it is developing possibilities for carrying out cross-border operations to provide emergency food and non-food assistance, and, in the event of military operations, medical assistance. It is prepared to run ambulance services in close cooperation with the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS). Already working to reinforce existing medical stocks in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, with medicines and materials needed for war surgery, it is working to develop several alternative pipelines, pre-positioning medical and relief stocks to give readier access to the different regions of the country and to provide maximum flexibility in its operations. Possibilities include routes through Iran or Turkmeni stan: first contacts have been made with the Iran Red Crescent Society, and a mission to Ashgabad, Turkmenistan, is being organized.   It is also looking into stepping up support for National Society family links programmes to enable them to meet the needs of families who may be separated.
 Contingency Planning and Humanitarian Values (19 September, 2001).    

Resources in place  

The first food distribution for drought victims in Ghor was completed before the expatriates'withdrawal, but large stocks of food, essential non-food items and emergency water and sanitation supplies remain in Afghanistan in ICRC warehouses in Kabul, Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif, Gulbahar/Panjshir, Faizabad, and Kandahar. Staff there confirm that they are still in place. Supply lines into areas held by the Northern Alliance remain open, and an additional shipment of food is moving into Northern Afghanistan from ICRC warehouses in Khorog and Dushanbe. Other shipments of food are in the pipeline for Afghanistan either through Peshawar, or destined for Herat via Iran.
Human and material resources within Afghanistan:

  • 1,000 Afghan staff, including managerial staff
  • 119 vehicles
  • 59 generators
  • 10,600 tonnes of food
  • Medical stocks for several weeks (at current levels of use)
  • Essential non-food items (e.g. blankets, tarpaulins, soap, jerry cans) for 50,000 persons
  • Water and sanitation supplies for emergency needs of 50,000 people

Shi pments still moving into Northern Afghanistan via Dushanbe and Khorog (Tajikistan):

  • 900 tonnes of food

Shipments in pipeline via Peshawar (Pakistan) or Iran:

  • 6,000 tonnes food

Human and material resources in Peshawar (Pakistan):

  • 17 expatriate staff (12 on standby from Afghanistan), some 130 local staff
  • two airplanes
  • 2000 tents
  • surgical supplies to treat 2,000 wounded
  • first aid supplies to treat 5,000 wounded

ICRC presence in the region  

In making contingency plans the ICRC can call upon the human resources and logistic capacities of its other operations which are operating in nearby countries:


ICRC delegation in Islamabad; some 11 expatriates and over 150 locally hired staff implementing protection, assistance, preventive action and cooperation programmes in Pakistan and supporting assistance operations in Afghanistan. Much of this staff works out of Peshawar, the logistic centre for ICRC operations in Afghanistan, where goods have been either flown into Afghanistan in ICRC planes, or trucked in commercially. No limits are anticipated in warehouse capacity there.


ICRC delegation in Dushanbe; 7 expatriate and 130 locally hired staff implementing protection, medical and preventive action and cooperation programmes and providing logistical support for Afghanistan operation. W arehouses in Dushanbe and Khorog feed pipeline to areas of Northern Afghanistan.

Tashkent (Uzbekistan):

ICRC Regional delegation in Tashkent directing protection, assistance preventive action and cooperation activities in Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Total of 14 expatriates and 39 local staff, most based in Tashkent. Emergency stock in Osh (Kyrgyzstan) and offices in Ashgabad, Osh, Almaty, and Bishkek.

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement  

The ICRC is in contact with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which is in the process of increasing operational capacity of the National Societies in the region. The operational capacity of both the ICRC and the International Federation is augmented by cooperating with National Societies in the countries concerned. For additional information on the International Federation's planned activities see its information bulletin N° 01, Contingency Planning and Humanitarian Values (19 September, 2001).
The ICRC has a long-standing operational cooperation with the ARCS, with whom it has worked to carry out assistance, agricultural, mine-action, tracing and other activities.
The Pakistan Red Crescent Society (PRCS) is a large and active National Society with a network of branches covering all four provinces of the country. It   currently cooperates with the ICRC to carry out tracing, medical and dissemination activities. The PRCS has already made plans to provide, with the support of the Federation, non-food assistance to refugees arriving in Quetta.
The ICRC and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have for a number of years worked closely to help the ARCS and the PRCS , and other National Societies of the region, to develop   their operational capacities, particularly in response to disasters and conflict.   Through its cooperation programmes it has reinforced their capacity to provide first aid services and to maintain family links through the Red Cross message network and other tracing activities .  
The Iranian Red Crescent is an active, well-structured National Society with a strong logistic capacity.

Coordinating with other humanitarian actors  

The ICRC maintains close contact with other humanitarian actors through OCHA coordination meetings in Peshawar. Should the WFP be able to maintain the function of any of its bakeries or other programmes to help feed the destitute,   it will consider the possibility of loaning portions of its food stock to help keep them running.  
 * * *  
For further information, please contact the External Resources Division.


1. Cf. ICRC Update 05/01 (7 March), 'War, drought and cold: the crisis deepens in Afghanistan'& ICRC Budget Extension Appeal 04/2001 (6 June), 'Afghanistan Budget Extension Appeal'  

Related sections