By Josh Smith
KABUL (Reuters) - The International Committee of the Red Cross will "drastically" cut back its operations in Afghanistan following attacks that have killed seven of its staff this year, the aid group said on Monday.
The announcement underlines the deteriorating security for aid groups in Afghanistan, where the ICRC has been operating for more than 30 years and has been running its fourth biggest humanitarian program.
"Exposure to risk has become our greatest challenge and concern," Monica Zanarelli, head of the ICRC in Afghanistan, told a news conference in the Afghan capital, Kabul.
"We have no choice but to drastically reduce our presence in Afghanistan," she said, adding that the decision would particularly affect operations in the north, where facilities in Mazar-i-Sharif and Kunduz would be closed or downsized.
While noting that ICRC was not "leaving" Afghanistan, she said it was necessary to review the organization's presence to prevent more losses.
The Red Cross had already warned of the threat to its operations following a series of attacks over the past year.
In February, six of its staff were killed in an attack on an aid convoy in the far north and last month, a Spanish Red Cross physiotherapist working in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif was shot dead by one of her patients.
In addition, four of its staff have been abducted over the past year.
According to U.S. military estimates, the government controls no more than 60 percent of the country, with the rest either controlled or contested by the Taliban and other insurgent groups.
(Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Nick Macfie)