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Safety in Afghanistan

No visit to, or time spent in, Afghanistan occurs without risk. The risks are varied and omnipresent: from kidnapping to improvised explosive devices (IEDs), from suicide bombings to land mines, from diseases to highway robbery. The time of the Taliban saw brutal policies in the country that ensured excellent security and very little crime based on a culture of fear and absolute control. Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001 the prevailing security environment has worsened and remains extremely volatile and unpredictable: a complex mix of insurgency, narcotics, lack of governance, absence of the rule of law and cross-border influence. Large-scale clashes and terrorist attacks continue unabated in parts of the country; even after half a decade of the presence of tens of thousands of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Coali- tion soldiers. Despite on occasions being directly targeted and even killed, thousands

of internationals have been working for Non-Governmental Organisa- tions (NGOs), international organisations (IOs) and for contractors since that time. Of those, 80% are located in Kabul and less than 5% reside outside of the main regional centres. Few independent travellers make the trip to Afghanistan, most only taking in Kabul, Bamiyan and some of the northern areas. It also needs to be recognised that even in the halcyon days of the Hippy Trail in the 1960s and ’70s, work and travel in Afghanistan was not without risk due to the absence of a strong government, lack of rule of law and the challenges of moving in extremely remote areas lacking communications and medical services. The same can be said for the NGOs and IOs working for the Afghan people during the Jihad against the Russians and later on during the Civil War and the Taliban regime. The fact is, internationals have been working and travelling to Afghanistan throughout its turbulent past and continue to do so: it is how you prepare, present and conduct yourself that will keep you out of harm’s way. Those working for NGOs, IOs or contractors will be afforded some

ability. A threat is something that can harm you and a risk is the chance of being harmed by that threat and the greater or lesser your exposure to the threat is your vulnerability. There is little you will be able to do to change the threat environment around you. However, there is a great deal you can do to reduce your vulnerability, which can be as simple as not moving on foot at night.


You are the only one responsible for your security, and this should never be delegated to anyone else. This chapter is in no way a substitute for professional, relevant and current security advice, training and information. Moreover this should be a continual process that starts during your planning and is ongoing throughout your visit.

level of security support to them – support which differs greatly between organisations. This is in stark contrast to the independent traveller, who does not have ready access to these support mechanisms. You need to be acutely aware of this in your planning. A simple equation that encapsulates this chapter is risk = threat x vulner-


Before Travelling to Afghanistan 69


Preparation for working in or travelling to Afghanistan is critical. It is essential to take the time to learn about the country, culture and customs, which will help you ready yourself, not only with your packing, but mentally. For even the most seasoned, risk-savvy, independent traveller Afghanistan can be an assault on your norms. Your preparation will help to keep you out of trouble and allow you to hit the ground at least walking, without wandering around looking lost and vulnerable upon arrival. For example, the value of understanding cultural sensitivities (a matter of security if you get it wrong and end up insulting an Afghan) or learning some key Dari and Pashto words and phrases cannot be underestimated.

Turning to what you pack, assembling a quick run (or grab) bag is an

extremely valuable addition to your luggage. This is to be kept with you should you have to leave in a hurry or lose everything else. The important thing is to think through what your essential items are in an emergency. Anyone travelling to Afghanistan, regardless of the length of the visit,

needs to arrange for comprehensive insurance for both medical and personal property. Not all insurers will insure for travel to Afghanistan and those that do may exclude or limit many essential items due to war/ terrorism risks. For those working in Afghanistan ensure you check with your employer as to the extent of your coverage and take out additional insurance if required. Finally, make sure you read the fine print!

Training Courses

For those planning to spend extended periods in Afghanistan and its remote areas a generic security training course is highly recommended. There are a wide range of courses available:

AKE Group (x+44 (0)1432 267111; Their ‘Surviving Hostile Regions’ five-day course is broken down into four areas; Awareness, Medical, Self Sufficiency and Planning and are conducted in the UK, US, Australia and Sweden. The course fees are pricey at UK£1790, but can be offset by discount offered on insurance premiums following the completion of the course. AKE also offers a weekly comprehensive security information update on all provinces of Afghanistan on a subscription basis of UK£1200 annually. Centurion Safety (x44-1637 852 910; Popular with journalists working in high-risk areas; conducts a three-day ‘Hostile Environments and Emergency First Aid Training for Aid Agencies’ in the UK and US. The course is a little pricey at UK£750, but that’s an all-inclusive fee. The former UK Royal Marine instructors take students through topics including first aid, vehicle safety and convoy routines, radio procedures and mines, and booby traps. RedR Australia (x613-9329 1387; Conducts a four-day ‘Personal Security and Communications’ course for AUD$800 for organisations and AUD$1000 for individuals. Topics covered include evacuation, hostage and arrest, culture and personal responsibility, and trauma and stress. Course fees are inclusive of food and accommodation. RedR International runs similar courses in the UK, US and areas where NGOs are operating, including Sudan and Sri Lanka – unfor- tunately not Afghanistan.


Up-to-date, accurate information and analysis of the prevailing political and security environment is going to be your greatest asset for travelling or working within Afghanistan in order to remain situationally aware. Things on the ground are fluid and can change extremely quickly, so you always need to know, to the greatest possible extent, what could happen and what you are going to do if it does. It is good to augment your latest news with general, historical, humanitarian and reconstruction informa- tion, which will help you put things into perspective.

Suggested things to put in your grab bag are: passport, personal documents, medications, water, small amount of food, Leatherman type multi-tool, warm covering, medical kit, mobile phone charger and toiletries.

The highly useful ECHO Generic Security Guide for Humanitarian Organisa- tions can be downloaded from echo/pdf_files/security/ echo_generic_security _guide_en.pdf. Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28  |  Page 29  |  Page 30  |  Page 31  |  Page 32  |  Page 33  |  Page 34  |  Page 35  |  Page 36  |  Page 37  |  Page 38  |  Page 39  |  Page 40  |  Page 41  |  Page 42  |  Page 43  |  Page 44  |  Page 45  |  Page 46  |  Page 47  |  Page 48  |  Page 49  |  Page 50  |  Page 51  |  Page 52  |  Page 53  |  Page 54  |  Page 55  |  Page 56  |  Page 57  |  Page 58  |  Page 59  |  Page 60  |  Page 61  |  Page 62  |  Page 63  |  Page 64  |  Page 65  |  Page 66  |  Page 67  |  Page 68  |  Page 69  |  Page 70  |  Page 71  |  Page 72  |  Page 73  |  Page 74  |  Page 75  |  Page 76  |  Page 77  |  Page 78  |  Page 79  |  Page 80  |  Page 81  |  Page 82  |  Page 83  |  Page 84  |  Page 85  |  Page 86  |  Page 87  |  Page 88  |  Page 89  |  Page 90  |  Page 91  |  Page 92  |  Page 93  |  Page 94  |  Page 95  |  Page 96  |  Page 97  |  Page 98  |  Page 99  |  Page 100  |  Page 101  |  Page 102  |  Page 103  |  Page 104  |  Page 105  |  Page 106  |  Page 107  |  Page 108  |  Page 109  |  Page 110  |  Page 111  |  Page 112  |  Page 113  |  Page 114  |  Page 115  |  Page 116  |  Page 117  |  Page 118  |  Page 119  |  Page 120  |  Page 121  |  Page 122  |  Page 123
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