Aid Groups Weigh Work In Afghanistan After Killings

NPR's Melissa Block talks to Anders Fange of the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan — which works on health, education and development projects in rural areas — about how the deaths of 10 international aid workers last week will affect the work he's doing there. He's been working in Afghanistan on and off since 1981.

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Central to this struggle for the hearts and minds of Afghans, though largely outside the control of the U.S. military, are international aid groups. And many of those groups are now being forced to reconsider their commitments in Afghanistan, after the murder last week of 10 aide workers; among them, six Americans.

Anders Fange is country director for the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, which works on health, education and development projects in rural areas. He's been working in Afghanistan on and off since 1981. Mr. Fange, welcome to the program.

Dr. ANDERS FANGE (Country Director, Swedish Committee for Afghanistan): Thank you.

BLOCK: I gather you knew that the team leader who was killed, Tom Little, in your work in Afghanistan. I imagine this hits especially close to home for you.

Dr. FANGE: Yeah, no, it was a very tragic thing and, of course, everybody who knew Tom and also who knew the others who were murdered, and so everybody are very upset, of course.

BLOCK: What we've heard from friends and family of the people who were killed, to a person, they talk about the deep commitment that they had for Afghanistan. Some of them raised their families there. Theyve been there for decades, as you have. Can you talk a bit about that commitment and what your connection is to the country?

Dr. FANGE: The country and the people is very special. And people tend to get what we call the Afghan bug or the Afghan virus. You get hooked on Afghanistan. It's an extremely generous people with, generally speaking, a very good sense of humor. I mean, I myself, usually I say that I never laugh as much as when Im with Afghans. So it's very - how do you say - gratifying to work with them.

BLOCK: Your time there, about 30 years now. So youve been there during the Soviet occupation, during the rule of the Taliban and now with the U.S. presence there. How has your work changed over those years - the kinds of things you could do, the places you could go?

Dr. FANGE: Well, I mean in the '80s when we - when you walked in Afghanistan with the resistance, with the mujahedeen, as they were called, and then you moved over the rural areas because the Soviet troops and the Afghan government controlled the cities. Today thats a very limited possibility because you, as a Westerner, if you go out, especially in the area south of Kabul but also increasingly in the north and other parts of the country, you are running certain risks and you have to be pretty careful when you're moving in the rural areas.

BLOCK: Now, this attack - this massacre, really, of the 10 aide workers came in a part Afghanistan that was thought to be relatively safe. Does it now make you rethink where you can go safely?

Dr. FANGE: No. What you do is that you - the way we work is that we are pretty careful with our international staff. The place where they were killed is called Kuran wa Minjan. It borders northwestern Pakistan. And in Pakistan, Taliban and other armed opposition groups, they have bases there and they move in over the border now and then.

So these border districts, they are very dangerous. And I must say, although no criticism, I understand the commitment where they went Nuristan and they went through these districts. And so, but I wouldnt have allowed my international staff to go to these places.

BLOCK: Mr. Fange, you're talking with us today from southern Sweden. You're heading back to Afghanistan tomorrow. Im curious what you tell your family as you head back, knowing about these killings last week.

Dr. FANGE: Well, all my family, and I have wife and two kids here, and so they are 20, 22 years old. And they all have been in Afghanistan and they all know Afghanistan. And they, well, I mean, it's the kind of routine. Im coming back home and Im going back down there, so it's not very much with that.

BLOCK: They're not especially concerned now?

Dr. FANGE: At least they are not telling me that they are especially concerned.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. FANGE: Yeah.

BLOCK: Well, Mr. Fange, best of luck with your travels. Thanks for talking with us.

Dr. FANGE: Thank you. Thank you. Yep.

BLOCK: Anders Fange is country director for the humanitarian group the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan.

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