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Swiss Afghanistan Aid To Continue After Troops Go


Afghanistan: Swiss aid to continue despite military withdrawal

Switzerland will maintain its humanitarian and development assistance to Afghanistan despite a decision by Bern to pull out its two army officers in northern Afghanistan by March 2008.

The decision to end cooperation with NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and withdraw the two officers, who were embedded with a German-led Provincial Reconstruction Team, was based on Switzerland's impression that the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan had become " a peace enforcement operation rather than a peacekeeping duty ", Swiss Defence Minister Samuel Schmid was quoted in the media as saying.

ISAF is a security assistance force of over 35,000 soldiers from 35 nations, 30 of them European, which has been mandated by the UN Security Council. NATO took over the command of ISAF in August 2003 at the request of the UN and the government of Afghanistan.

Known for its long-standing neutral status in global disputes, Switzerland's decision to end its modest cooperation with NATO-ISAF is not expected to have any implications for other European countries which support the NATO mission in Afghanistan.

Aid not affected

"This withdrawal does not have any implications for our humanitarian and development aid to Afghanistan. We basically decide upon needs and funding availability," Andre Huber, country director for the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), told IRIN in Kabul.

According to Huber, in the past five years Bern has annually spent about 20 million swiss francs (around US$18 million) on various development projects in Afghanistan - a small but significant contribution.

The Swiss-based International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which has over 20 years experience of armed conflict in Afghanistan, has already said there will be a 30 percent increase in its humanitarian assistance budget for 2008.

The National Solidarity Programme - a community-driven rural development programme - is one of the biggest recipients of Switzerland's development assistance to Afghanistan.

Switzerland is also funding the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.

Although Switzerland does not work closely on police reform, it has contributed over the past year to the establishment of a first-ever electronic payroll system for tens of thousands of Afghan police officers, which may help in curbing corruption and misuse of public funds.

Aid effectiveness

The SDC also defended its development aid delivery to Afghanistan after a recent report by Oxfam international which criticised donors for lack of coordination and ineffective aid delivery.

"We have made sure that our aid is delivered in the most effective possible way," Huber said.

However, the SDC country director acknowledged that in spite of efforts by the Afghan government, coordination among donors could be improved.

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