US issues new methodology for travel advisory, Afghanistan among 10 countries unsuitable for travel


WASHINGTON, Jan 11 (TNS): The US State Department on Wednesday issued new methodology for issuing international travel advisory with Afghanistan placed along with about a dozen countries not fit for travel, while Pakistan was ranked among countries where travelers were asked to reconsider their plans.

At a special briefing, US State Department officials said that the administration was doing away with emergency and security messages and have instead gone for a four-ranking system, starting with a Level 1, which is “Exercise  normal precautions”; Level 2  “Exercised increased caution”; Level 3 “Reconsider travel and Level 4, which is “Do not travel”. India was placed in Level 2 category.

Afghanistan was placed in Level 4, “Do not travel” category for reasons that included terrorism, civil unrest and armed conflict.

“Travel to all areas of Afghanistan is unsafe because of high levels of kidnappings, hostage taking, suicide bombings, widespread military combat operations, landmines, terrorist and insurgent attacks, including attacks using vehicle-borne or other improvised explosive devices (IEDs),” says the advisory for Afghanistan.

“Attacks have targeted official Afghan and U.S. government convoys and compounds, foreign embassies, military installations, commercial entities, non-governmental organization (NGO) offices, hospitals, places of worship, restaurants, hotels, airports, and education centers.”

According to the advisory, family members cannot accompany US government employees who work in Afghanistan while unofficial travel by US government employees and their family members is restricted and requires prior approval from the US State Department.

Pakistan was placed in Level-3 “Reconsider travel” category, and travelers have been advised not to travel to Balochistan, KPK and FATA due to terrorism. It also included AJK, potential for armed conflict between Pakistan and India.

According to advisory, over the past six months, there have been at least 40 significant terrorist attacks across Pakistan, resulting in over 225 deaths and 475 wounded, most of which occurred in Balochistan, KPK, and the FATA. In the past, there have been large-scale terrorist attacks resulting in hundreds of casualties.

For India, the travel advisory asked travelers to exercise increased caution due to crime and terrorism with some areas have increased risk. Travelers have been asked not to travel to Indian-held Jammu and Kashmir due to “terrorism and civil unrest”.

The advisory said that Indian authorities report rape is one of the fastest growing crimes in India whereas violent crime, such as sexual assault, has occurred at tourist sites and in other locations.  “Terrorist or armed groups are active in East Central India, primarily in rural areas.”

It said that the U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in rural areas from eastern Maharashtra and northern Telangana through western West Bengal as U.S. government employees must obtain special authorization to travel to these areas.

The advisory said in northeastern states, incidents of violence by ethnic insurgent groups. US government employees are prohibited from traveling to the states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Tripura, and Manipur without special authorization from the U.S. Consulate General in Kolkata.

The advisory noted that Maoist extremist groups, or “Naxalites,” are active in a large swath of India from eastern Maharashtra and northern Telangana through western West Bengal, particularly in rural parts of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand and on the borders of Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, and Odisha.

The Naxalites have conducted frequent terrorist attacks on local police, paramilitary forces, and government officials, it added.