Aid Director: Killings Impact Ability To Serve Afghans
GUY RAZ, host:
It now appears that 10 members of the International Assistance Mission - that's a charity group that provides free medical services in Afghanistan - were murdered in the northern province of Badakhshan.
Among them, six Americans - including Tom Little, an optometrist with more than 30 years of experience in that country and a fluent Dari speaker. He was profiled by NPR in 2003. And he was asked why, even during the most violent periods, he stuck it out in Afghanistan.
Dr. TOM LITTLE (Optometrist, International Assistance Mission): We've come here to identify, in some small sense, with the Afghan people. And for us, at those periods, just to leave - and when they are not able to leave - just because we're afraid, it seemed dishonest and shameful, almost, to say goodbye to our friends and patients here, who couldn't leave.
RAZ: Earlier today, I spoke with Dirk Frans - he is the director of the International Assistance Mission in Kabul - about the fate of his colleagues.
Mr. DIRK FRANS (Director, International Assistance Mission): They have been there for about three weeks and every evening, they would call to make sure that everything was okay. The last time we heard from them was last Wednesday. Then on Thursday, we didn't get a call. And on Friday, we heard from the Afghanistan NGO Security Office that 10 people were found murdered in the area where our team had last been known to be.
RAZ: So they were on horseback. They were stopping along the way, setting up camp and offering medical services, is that right?
Mr. FRANS: Yes. Now, the province in which they were working, Nuristan, is rather unsafe, particularly the southern part. So we had actually agreed that the team should go from the north - that is, from the Badakhshan area. They were driving through Badakhshan and then close to the border, they actually crossed into Nuristan. That's when they left their cars, went on horseback. And the team has then spent about two and a half weeks doing camps in villages and valleys in Nuristan. And they were actually on their way back when we lost contact.
RAZ: If, in fact, these people who have been found are members of your group, of IAM, what then - I mean, what do you do at that point?
Mr. FRANS: Well, one thing that we have to find out is what has actually happened. When the local police actually found the bodies of 10 people, the police chief basically said, this was a robbery. And the people were completely stripped of all their valuables. There were no passports, no - nothing of value left.
Now, that could well be the case. That would actually fit the information that we had, that basically there were no insurgents in the area. But of course, you never know about bandits and robbers; they can be just about anywhere. Once we have the outcome of the criminal investigation, we can take action.
RAZ: But you won't leave?
Mr. FRANS: I think that is highly unlikely. We have been in Afghanistan since 1966, when the king was here; when the Communists were in power; when earliest mujahideen groups were in power; under the Taliban; And now, I think it's rather unlikely that we would leave. We would only leave in one instance - that is, if the government says, we don't want you anymore.
We're here, basically, as guests in Afghanistan. And as long as we're wanted, and as long as we can find people who are willing and able to work under these circumstances, I think it's rather unlikely that IAM would stop.
RAZ: Dirk Frans is the director of the International Assistance Mission in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Mr. Frans, thank you so much for you time.
Mr. FRANS: Thank you very much.
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