Red Cross Warns of Bloodiest Spring Ever in Afghanistan

Mike O'Brien

This spring may turn out to be the bloodiest yet in the 12-year conflict in Afghanistan, the International Committee of the Red Cross warned on Thursday.

As the U.S. and coalition forces prepare to hand over full security control to the native army, the ICRC warned that security is deteriorating across Afghanistan with militants mounting increasing attacks in the battlefield.

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Gherardo Pontrandolfi, head of the ICRC delegation in Kabul, said: "Spring is a good season of the year usually. But unfortunately it has a negative connotation with the resumption of the fighting. Spring and summer will be very difficult for civilians especially in the months ahead. The civilian population is bearing the brunt of this conflict."

He urged the warring parties to prevent the deaths of civilians, who keep getting caught in the crossfire.

April has been the most violent month this year in Afghanistan, with 186 people — including civilians, security forces and foreign troops — killed in violence. According to the Associated Press, more than 150 insurgents have also died.

The Taliban have threatened to target anyone working for the government or the U.S.-led coalition. The latest deaths came in southern Helmand province when four laborers building a checkpoint for the Afghan army were shot to death.

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Even aid workers have been targeted. Two staff members of the Afghan Red Crescent were fatally shot when their medical van was ambushed on Wednesday. Two others were wounded in the attack.

Mr. Pontrandolfi said: "This is a tragedy, not only for the families of the deceased, but for all those needing medical attention, because now units like these might find it even more difficult to work in certain parts of the country."

"What we see is a proliferation and fragmentation of armed actors. Fighting, roadblocks, roadside bombs and a general lack of security prevent medics and humanitarian aid from reaching the sick and wounded — just when they need it most."

Despite the dire warnings, senior officials insist the Afghan authorities are ready to take over and move to "Tranche 5," the the final phase of the transition from international to Afghan control.

Lieutenant General Nick Carter, who is deputy commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) based in Kabul, said the final phase is likely to be announced next month, Sky News reports.

He said: "It is absolutely the case that Afghans will be ready to assume national security by Tranche 5."

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