Afghanistan: UN envoy urges revision of detention, search and air attack tactics

17 December 2008

The top United Nations official in Afghanistan today called for a revision of the agreement between the Government and international military forces on detention, house searches and the use of air power, which has led to the deaths of many civilians.

“There is a need for greater integration, better cooperation and better operational cohesion between the international forces and the Afghan national forces,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative Kai Eide told a news conference in Kabul, the capital.

“With regard to house searches, I believe that Afghans should always be in front. The Afghans are aware of the cultural sensitivities in a completely different way than internationals are or can be. And cultural sensitivity is critically important for those kind of activities.

“With regard to the use of air power – I think already changes have been made in the way international forces operate in order to avoid situations where there is use of air power, for instance in populated areas, which can lead to unnecessary civilian casualties.

“With regard to detentions, I think greater transparency is required in order to avoid that people are detained and often are held for a long period of time on the basis of mistaken identity or mistakes with regard to whether these people are insurgents or not.”

Mr. Eide noted that some of the UN’s closest contacts in the community have been detained, adding that the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) can help in correcting mistakes, thus reducing the resulting frustration in communities.

On the expected increase in foreign forces to counter a recent upsurge in Taliban attacks, he said an enhanced military presence was needed for two main reasons – to provide a significant number of trainers to expand the Afghan army as quickly as possible, and to ensure that elections take place in as secure an environment as possible.

On the civilian side, there is clearly a need to ensure that financial resources coming into the country are spent in the best possible way, avoiding fragmentation and duplication, he said, citing agriculture, employment, energy production, private sector development, capacity building and higher and vocational training among priority areas.

Mr. Aide voiced the hope the UNAMA’s budget for the coming year would be doubled, allowing for an increase in staff from 1,500 to more than 2,000, with recruitment of experts in such key areas as agriculture, power and capacity building.

Among the challenges facing the Mission, he cited the problem of access in significant parts of the country due to insecurity and Taliban attacks. “It frustrates me profoundly every day to know and to see that we cannot reach out to the Afghan people everywhere where we need to do it and to help meet their humanitarian concerns,” he said.

Asked about corruption, insecurity, aid effectiveness and real transparency in the country, Mr. Eide replied: “On all the aspects… the situation has been unsatisfactory. The security situation we know about; transparency also not satisfactory; aid effectiveness not satisfactory.”

In a related development, Mr. Ban today welcomed Japan’s decision to continue for a further year its support of international operations in Afghanistan by resuming its navy’s refuelling operations in the Indian Ocean.

 

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