The message, very often, is sent with bloodshed.
A suicide bombing last week on a fortified Kandahar guesthouse shared by Western contracting companies killed four Afghans and injured several Americans. An Afghan engineer was shot dead in March as he helped inspect last month not far from the Pakistan border. An Afghan woman who worked for a US-based consulting firm was shot by motorbike-riding gunmen as she headed home in this southern city.
Attacks on US contractors, construction companies and aid organizations have been rising just as the US pushes faster development of Afghanistan, one of the world’s poorest countries, as a priority in its strategy to counter the insurgency.
The number of contractor attacks is elusive since the workers are from many countries and work for a number of different organizations, but the toll has jumped precipitously since US President Barack Obama launched a massive troop surge in December.
Of the 289 civilians working for US contractors killed between the start of the Afghanistan war in late 2001 and the end of last year, 100 died in just the last six months of last year, a report by the US Congressional Research Service showed.
To a degree, those killings have mirrored an increase in US service member deaths, which roughly doubled in the first three months of this year compared with the same period last year.
Many of the recent attacks against civilian contractors have been around Kandahar, the one-time Taliban capital where the US is poised to launch a major operation in the coming weeks, but violence against contractors has spiked across Afghanistan.
“The insurgents are trying to say: ‘You can’t do it,’” US General Stanley McChrystal said in a speech last week in Paris, shortly after two bombings shook Kandahar. “I think we’ll see that for months as they make an effort to stop progress, but I don’t think that they’ll be successful.”
In some ways, though, they already have been successful.
Contractors say they are staying in the country, but they have been forced to retreat even further behind blast walls and heavily armed security perimeters. The security drives up costs, making interaction with regular Afghans harder and slowing reconstruction projects.
“We have become the targets of the Taliban,” said Azizullah, the owner of a construction company that builds bridges and irrigation projects in the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand, insurgent strongholds. “If we travel, they try to kidnap us and hold us for huge ransoms. If we don’t pay, they kill us,” said Azizullah, who like many Afghans has only one name.