Via IRIN: Aid agencies withdraw from Afghanistan’s north. Excerpt:
The United Nations has evacuated staff from areas of northern Afghanistan where a suspected American airstrike hit a clinic run by Médecins Sans Frontières, forcing it to leave Kunduz Province – the latest in a growing number of humanitarian agencies withdrawing from the north as violence increases.
At least 22 people died in the attack on the MSF hospital in the provincial capital of Kunduz early Saturday morning. The United States is investigating whether its aircraft carried out the bombing, but a NATO statement has already acknowledged that the US launched an airstrike “in the vicinity” of the MSF facility at the same time it was hit.
MSF has called for an investigation into whether the attack violates international humanitarian law, and it has closed the hospital and evacuated some staff from Kunduz Province, a spokesperson for the medical charity told IRIN.
MSF is only the latest group to suspend operations in northern Afghanistan, where Afghan and US forces are battling the resurgent Taliban. Violence has intensified during the past week as the two sides vied for control of the city of Kunduz. On 28 September, it became the first provincial capital to fall to the Taliban since it was ousted from power in 2001.
The United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) closed its offices in Kunduz city last week because it could not guarantee the safety of staff. Other organisations, including the World Food Programme, evacuated personnel as fighting for control of the city raged.
Over the past week, UNAMA has also evacuated staff from Baghlan Province, which borders Kunduz to the south, and has withdrawn some staff from the northeastern province of Badakhshan, according to spokesperson Dominic Medley.
“We are doing this as a cautionary measure,” he told IRIN.
The Taliban maintains a significant presence in parts of Baghlan. Insurgents have ambushed Afghan security forces on their way to reinforce troops in Kunduz and laid mines along the main road, according to media reports that were confirmed by a Kabul-based security analyst on condition of anonymity.
With intensified conflict in northern Afghanistan this year, there has been a steady erosion of humanitarian activities, leaving residents in some areas without access to food and medical care, along with other services.