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Taliban Lift Ban On Red Cross, Pledge To Protect Aid Workers In Afghanistan

The Taliban say the Red Cross may resume its work in Afghanistan, more than five months after threatening the group. In this photo from March, an orthopedic technician walks past artificial limbs in a workshop at the International Committee of the Red Cross hospital for war victims and the disabled in Kabul.

The Taliban are rescinding a 5-month-old ban that prevented staff with the International Committee of the Red Cross from working in Afghanistan, saying they also will renew security guarantees for the aid workers.

The new arrangement was worked out during talks in Doha, the capital of Qatar, according to representatives from both the Taliban and the Red Cross.

"In a message sent via social media, a Taliban spokesman said they had all instructed all their fighters to 'pave the way' for the International Committee of the Red Cross to resume work," NPR's Diaa Hadid reports from Islamabad.

"The organization is one of the largest working in Afghanistan today — they've faced deadly attacks in the past — including in 2017, when eight Red Cross workers were killed," Hadid says.

In April, the Taliban issued threats to both the Red Cross and the World Health Organization, saying their staffs would be targeted if they kept working in Afghanistan. Those threats came during vaccination campaigns.

Schaerer Juan-Pedro, who leads the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation in Afghanistan, says the two sides reestablished a "common understanding" about the Red Cross' work in Afghanistan.

"We welcome the acknowledgment of our humanitarian principles and renewal of security guarantees," Juan-Pedro said via Twitter.

It's not clear whether the Taliban have lifted their ban on the World Health Organization, whose work in Afghanistan includes a range of medical care along with vaccinations and polio eradication.

Shortly before the ban was announced in April, the WHO said it was hoping to protect more than 9.3 million children under the age of 5 from polio. At the time, three polio cases had been reported in Afghanistan.

The Red Cross, which says it has had a presence in Afghanistan since 1979, was criticized in 2010 for teaching Taliban fighters the basics of first aid and giving them medical kits. But the international aid group had scaled back its activities in northern Afghanistan after its aid workers died in the 2017 attack, which targeted an orthopedic center.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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