Conditions in Afghanistan are described by international aid workers as dangerous and unstable. Delegates returning home from last week’s loya jirga have reported threats and intimidation especially to women. In light of these circumstances, Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) restated a continued plea last night to the Bush administration and Congress for expanded US peacekeeping presence in Afghanistan Ð especially in the areas outside of Kabul. For the past several months, the Feminist Majority and other women’s organizations as well as the United Nations and the interim Afghan government have asked the Bush administration to expand US peacekeeping troops from 4,800 to 25,000 in order to protect the Afghan people.
“The Bush administration has refused to expand the international security assistance force beyond Kabul. The restoration of democracy and of rights for women in Afghanistan depends on maintaining security, reestablishing democracy, and creating a functional central government that can provide services and oversee reconstruction to that country,” Reid said, urging Bush to provide full US support to the war-torn nation. “To do less is to indicate that we do not care about Afghanistan and to underscore that we do not care about what is happening to the women of Afghanistan.”
UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Peter Kessler described an “extremely precarious” situation in Afghanistan – exacerbated by the scarce and rapidly dwindling supply of food, water, and healthcare, according to the Dawn Group of Newspapers. Kessler said the agency was not encouraging refugees to return home: “The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has done a great job in Kabul but there are still security problems in many parts of the country.” There are an estimated 3.7 million Afghans still sheltered abroad, with approximately 2 million in Pakistan. Since March, about 940,000 Afghan refugees have returned home from Pakistan. Sixty-eight non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have written to the UN Security Council demanding expansion of peacekeeping forces, according to the Deutsche Welle newspaper. With ISAF presently limited to Kabul, foreign workers in other areas of the country are being targeted in robberies, assaults, and rape. Afghan women and children are especially vulnerable to such dangers. Some relief groups such as Northwest Medical Teams have evacuated due to attacks on foreigners.