Many people will no doubt be surprised (I know I was) to learn that the International Committee of the Red Cross is teaching first aid to the Taliban in Afghanistan.
But after you think about it a bit, it arguably makes sense that an organization that claims neutrality would teach such skills to people on both sides of a conflict so as not to appear to be taking sides.
And that's the argument the ICRC makes amid criticism by many, including an Afghan government official, for providing such training to the Islamic fundamentalist fighters. The ICRC has apparently received a lot of critical e-mails as well.
An excerpt from an Associated Press story:
GENEVA (AP) - The international Red Cross said Wednesday it would continue giving first aid training and kits to Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, despite drawing angry e-mails from around the world and criticism from an Afghan official after the practice was publicized.
The International Committee of the Red Cross trained "over 70 members of the armed opposition" in first aid last month, along with more than 100 Afghan police and civilians, including taxi drivers.
The courses started in 2006 and the neutral group will continue as long as they are needed, said Red Cross spokesman Christian Cardon.
An ICRC press release describes the Taliban training as part of the organization's effort to improve the chances that the injured and sick, regardless of their flag, are able to receive or provide basic medical care, something that's vitally important in a country like Afghanistan with its vast distances , mountainous terrain and roads made dangerous by combat.