By Terry Friel, Reuters
Most of the fighting is in the south and the east. So far, the Taliban and other militants are almost exclusively aiming for the military, police and government, rather than civilian and soft targets as in Iraq.
But this year is seeing a noticeable increase in violence in the north around Mazar-i-Sharif and in the west, where there has been heavy fighting in late April.
Civilians are often caught up in fighting between the foreign and Afghan forces and insurgents, as well as suicide bombings. There is also a risk of being caught in crossfire from NATO and U.S.-led coalition troops in the aftermath of an attack on them.
In addition to the insurgency, banditry is a problem in rural areas. As in any country, it’s important to check with local contacts and sources about current safety. A road that is fine today may not be so tomorrow, and vice versa.
Mobiles work near key towns or military bases, but a satellite phone is essential for rural areas.
Kabul itself is relatively safe, with the main risk being in the wrong spot at the wrong time if a bomb goes off. Stay well clear of any Afghan or foreign military convoys as they are the main targets. Most recent attacks have been on the Jalalabad Road, which leads to several NATO and Afghan army facilities and therefore sees heavy amounts of military traffic.
Other hotspots in Kabul include the roads near the U.S. embassy and the road along the river. Even in Kabul, women may find things slightly more difficult. Even in headscarves women, especially foreign women, attract more attention on the streets.
Most visitors hire cars. Guesthouses (as most lodhings are known here) can organise them, or Afghan Logistics is a good company that can be hired per one way trip or by the day. Journalists based in Kabul and the smarter security contractors maintain a low profile. The less you or your vehicle or stand out the better.
The risk of kidnapping has increased across the country. Reliable Taliban sources say they will target more foreign aid workers and journalists after winning the release of an Italian journalist in exchange for five Taliban officials.
Health care is a major problem in the event of illness of injury. The German Diagnostic Clinic (www.medical-kabul.com) in Kabul is excellent and one of the best places for day to day issues. Unlike some of the better facilities, this also treats Afghans. However, it operates only during the day and has no trauma/emergency services. The Italian Emergency hospital near the British Embassy is good for major emergencies.
It is possible – but far from guaranteed – to get into ISAF’s German or French hospitals at Camp Warehouse on the Jalalabad Road.
It is worth checking insurance. Most major companies cover for death, but some – including one of the biggest news organizations in the world – do not cover any long-term disability.