Aid workers in Afghanistan fear for their lives as troops pull out - survey

LONDON - Half the aid workers in Afghanistan received death treats or intimidation during the past year as foreign troops phased out their operations and funding began to dwindle, a survey released ahead of the London conference on Afghanistan said.

Aid workers and rights campaigners surveyed by BAAG, an umbrella group of British and Irish charities working in Afghanistan, said their security was rapidly deteriorating and 60 per cent felt unprotected.

Taliban insurgents and their allies have stepped up attacks across the country ahead of international troops' planned withdrawal by the end of 2014.

"There is a clear picture of people feeling abandoned, vulnerable, under-funded," said BAAG director Jawed Nader.

"We risk leaving our colleagues in Afghanistan with a feeling of betrayal, that we are turning our back on them and leaving them exposed, both in terms of security and financially."

Three quarters of aid organisations working in Afghanistan said funding for their development programmes had fallen in the past year.

Certain areas have become off limits for aid workers because of insurgent activity, and vulnerable communities are no longer receiving their support, said the survey, released on Wednesday.

Humanitarian agency Mercy Corps, which has worked in Helmand province since 2011, warned that progress made in Afghanistan risked being eroded if its programmes were not funded.

"The withdrawal of international troops should signal an increase, not a reduction, in support for Afghanistan," Mercy Corps' Afghanistan director David Haines said in a statement.

In the last two weeks three compounds used by foreign aid organisations have been hit by armed attackers, including a guest house for international aid workers in the capital Kabul, in which three people were killed.

Recent incidents have shown that despite an intensive US training programme, the 350,000-strong Afghan security forces will find it hard to fight off the insurgents once most of the foreign troops have withdrawn.

The conference on the future of Afghanistan, co-hosted by the governments of Britain and Afghanistan, will take place in London on Dec. 4.

"This week's conference is an opportunity to remember that the problems facing Afghans working to improve their country do not go away just because our troops and camera crews leave," said Nader.