THE AFGHAN MISSION
Upbeat Bernier contradicts UN reports
Foreign Affairs Minister declares Kandahar more secure despite statistics that say situation is worsening
October 8, 2007
KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN -- Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier contradicted all publicly available assessments of security in southern Afghanistan yesterday with a bold claim that insurgent attacks have decreased in Kandahar, leaving the province more secure for humanitarian work.
"The territory is more secure now today, here in Kandahar than it was a year ago," Mr. Bernier said. "Look just a year ago what happened, there were many attacks, and the attacks have diminished."
Canadian officials have often pointed to hopeful developments in southern Afghanistan, but they rarely challenge the statistics cited by the United Nations and private security analysts that suggest an overall worsening trend.
"The security situation in Afghanistan is assessed by most analysts as having deteriorated at a constant rate through 2007," said a paper by the UN Department of Safety and Security in August. That report showed violent incidents increased almost 25 per cent this year, although the authors noted that the figure may be conservative.
Kandahar was among only three provinces listed in the United Nations report as places where the security situation has fallen into its worst category - "Extreme Risk/Hostile Environment" - across most of the province. This rating causes less accessibility to UN programs, the report notes.
These statistics fit with those collected by other analysts. The respected security firm Vigilant Strategic Services Afghanistan found that Kandahar suffered more anti-government attacks than any other province, in a tally of incidents from the beginning of the year to Sept. 30.
He also claimed that it's getting easier for aid workers to travel the province.
"We have improvement because our civilians, our humanitarian workers are able to go out there and do their work," Mr. Bernier said.
In fact, the growing risk of kidnapping among aid workers has prompted the UN to develop a new map assessing the likelihood of capture by insurgents in districts across the country. Almost the entire province of Kandahar is shown as "high abduction risk."
In a survey this year, Afghan government employees said they have limited ability to visit the majority of Kandahar's districts without armed escort; across the south, local officials said their access was decreasing because of the rising insecurity.
Another measure of aid workers' ability to work is the UN's internal security map.
This summer the map showed about one-third Afghanistan in the highest-risk category for travel, representing a deterioration from the summer of 2006, when only 15 per cent of the country earned the same rating.
The Canadian Press also makes note of this.
"The territory is more secure today here in Kandahar than it was a year ago," he said.
Last year there were many attacks, he added.
"Those attacks have diminished," Bernier said. "It's still difficult. I saw that it's still difficult. But the situation has greatly improved."
A recent review by the UN Department of Safety and Security described the situation in Kandahar as "volatile."
Across the country, 2007 has been the bloodiest year since the Taliban was ousted from power in a U.S. invasion six years ago.
So far this year, there have been an average of 525 violent incidents a month, compared with 425 last year.
The fact this is the most violent year since Afghanistan was invaded is evidence according to Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier of “real positive momentum”