Red Cross in Afghanistan gives Taliban first aid help

ICRC treatment centre in Kabul Afghanistan is one of the ICRC's largest areas of operation

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says it has given first aid training to Taliban members in Afghanistan.

An ICRC statement said the organisation had provided basic training and first aid kits to about 70 members of the "armed opposition" last month.

The ICRC said that it had also provided training to civilians.

A spokesman said that the training had been going on for some time to ensure that everyone is treated humanely.

The spokesman said the ICRC's constitution stipulates that all parties harmed by warfare will be treated as fairly as possible.

He said that giving first aid training to armies and armed opposition groups was "routine" in other conflict areas of the world such as Sri Lanka.

Correspondents say that revelations that the ICRC is providing first aid training to the Taliban are not a surprise, but will nevertheless not go down well with many in the Afghan government.

A Nato spokesman in Kabul said that the alliance respects the humanitarian work carried out by the ICRC and recognises the need for this work to be carried out impartially.

The spokesman pointed out that Nato frequently provided first aid to injured Taliban fighters.

'Impartial organisation'

The ICRC spokesman denied that by giving first aid training to the Taliban - rather than merely treating injured insurgents - it was crossing an important dividing line.

ICRC logo The ICRC attaches great importance to its impartiality

"Our aim is to treat people when and where it matters most, irrespective of what side they are on," he said. "It is a fundamental part of our objectives.

"We treat and train people on the basis of medical necessity as an impartial organisation, regardless of race or politics."

In a report on Tuesday looking at the state of Afghanistan's health services, the ICRC said that "fighting, mines and road blocks" were preventing many people in the conflict-affected areas from getting to hospital.

"The armed conflict is taking a heavy toll on health services around the country. Even basic first aid is often lacking, let alone advanced war surgery. And when health care is available, it is not always easy to get it," it said.

Afghanistan is the ICRC's biggest operation worldwide. It has 140 international and 1,540 national staff based in its main delegation in Kabul and in five sub-delegations and 10 offices countrywide.

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