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NGO officials dispute allegations that they pay off the Taliban, claim Pentagon efforts to enlist their help place them in peril.
Saillard isn’t the only one.
“The fact that they are calling it civil-military fusion says it all,” Ashley Jackson, Oxfam’s head of communications in Kabul, said in a phone interview. “It creates confusion and it blurs the lines. It is very dangerous, and it undermines both our impartiality and our ability to work in these areas.”
“Even the term itself is a problem,” said Jonathan Mitchell, emergency response director for NGO Care International’s secretariat in Geneva. “The word 'fusion' implies a connection between humanitarianism and the military. The suggestion that we would be involved in sharing information through some sort of database that is managed by the military goes against all concepts of maintaining a clear distinction between humanitarian actors and the military.” The NGO concern is that the soldier who helps a villager as part of a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), may come back shooting tomorrow. To a villager, already at the mercy of forces beyond his control, blurring the lines between aid and combat can make everyone, including aid workers, look like the enemy — and that makes life difficult, if not dangerous, for humanitarians.
A report by the U.N. last year documented a dramatic increase in the killing and abduction of aid workers in Afghanistan
The term “fusion centre” originally referred to anti-terrorism response and prevention centers set up by U.S. Homeland Security and the Justice Department from 2003 to 2007, as part of the Global War on Terror (GWOT).
The goal of those centers was to provide a better way of sharing information between intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Eventually, the private sector was roped in and AT&T, Sprint, MCI and Verizon were encouraged to provide intelligence information on Americans as well as foreign suspects. At least 72 U.S.-based fusion centers are currently recognized by Homeland Security.
The Civil-Military Fusion Centre is currently being sold as a NATO initiative, but the headquarters is in Norfolk, Va., and the officer assigned to present the idea in Geneva was a U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel. No one seriously questions the fact that Washington is calling the shots on this one, and in fact, a number of people attending the briefing saw it as an extension of Hillary Clinton’s goal of creating a synergy between the three D's — Diplomacy Development and Defense.
That may make sense from Washington’s perspective, but from the NGO’s viewpoint the program effectively turns aid workers into amateur intelligence agents and bolsters the Taliban’s rationale for kidnapping and assassination, a point that doesn’t seem to have occurred to the Pentagon, or if it did, no one seems to have really cared.
An initial red flag was waved when Richard Holbrooke, the administration’s chief trouble shooter in Afghanistan, casually remarked last April that 90 percent of what the U.S. actually knows about Afghanistan comes from aid agencies and humanitarian groups.
Holbrooke’s remarks reinforced the Taliban’s contention that humanitarian workers are really an arm of the war effort against them and thus legitimate targets. The fact that the Pentagon is still pushing the center despite the furor that surrounded Holbrooke’s remarks is added proof that Washington still lacks a firm grasp of Afghan thinking on the ground.