Red Cross in First Visit to Taliban-Held Detainees

The international Red Cross has made its first visit to Afghan prisoners held by the Taliban in the northwest of the country, the organization said Tuesday.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it visited three members of the Afghan security forces detained by the Taliban in Badghis province. The two visits took place last month, it said.

"This is the first time since the beginning of the current conflict that the ICRC has visited people detained by the armed opposition," said Reto Stocker, the head of the ICRC's delegation in Kabul. He called the visits a breakthrough.

ICRC spokeswoman Carla Haddad Mardini declined to comment on the conditions of the three prisoners visited by the agency.

"We did assess the conditions of detention and treatment and made recommendations when we felt necessary," she told reporters.

The neutral agency does not publish the findings of its visits, but issues confidential reports to the detaining authorities or groups.

Haddad Mardini said she was unable to say how many other people were being held by the Taliban in Afghanistan. The access to the three prisoners has been the result of years of work, she said. "We hope we will be able to repeat that visit and to extend such visits to other regions in the country."

The ICRC, which is the guardian of the Geneva Conventions on the conduct of warfare, regularly visits prisoners of war around the world to check how they are being held and treated. It also helps prisoners keep in touch with their families.

The agency said it has visited 136 places of detention in Afghanistan and has registered more than 16,000 prisoners since the U.S. invasion in 2001.

Stocker said he hopes the ICRC will also be able to visit people held by "other armed opposition groups," in Afghanistan.