Security Fears for Aid Workers in Afghanistan


By Jason Thomas.

The recent suicide attack in Afghanistan, wounding Aus Aid worker David Savage, and the transition to Afghan Government-led security companies are a wake-up call for many aid missions leading up to the withdrawal of Coalition forces after 2014. A recent letter from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) raised major concerns about the impending transition from private security companies to the state-run Afghan Public Protection Force (APPF), which will place millions of dollars’ worth of development projects at risk.

The challenge for many organisations in Afghanistan is they have relied too heavily on personal security details (PSDs), remained confined to their compounds in Kabul, or only travel to the Afghan villages with Coalition forces. They have lost the art of community-based security. This requires a close and deep engagement with the villagers that one only gets by living amongst them. Community-based security requires the ability to blend into your environment; acting, living and conducting yourself like a local. In Afghanistan this means growing a beard, wearing local dress, and driving vehicles that look like every other beaten up old car on the road. It also requires learning to have acute situational awareness; in other words, a radar for spotting changes in your immediate surroundings. The habits of life will get you killed in Afghanistan.

The standard operating procedure is to alternate vehicles every day, as well as the routes taken and the times travelled, limit outside knowledge of travel plans, and if possible not return by the same road. A telltale sign of trouble was lack of children playing in the street outside our compound when normally they should be – in such a case, I would keep driving. Often when entering a village the local kids would put their hands over their ears to tell you an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) had been put on the road. When driving to meet tribal leaders I would have a vehicle with my local staff drive ahead of me. If they came across a Taliban checkpoint they would text to tell me to turn back. Building respect among the local tribal leaders by meeting them on their turf also helps with personal protection.

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