Taliban attack kills 3 aid workers, driver in Afghanistan
PUL-E-ALAM, Afghanistan - Taliban fighters with assault rifles shredded a US aid group's sport utility vehicle with dozens of bullets yesterday, killing three Western women and their Afghan driver amid an escalating militant onslaught against humanitarian workers in Afghanistan.
The ambush of two clearly marked aid vehicles on the main road south of Kabul was the latest in a record number of attacks on aid groups this year - a surge that has workers questioning whether they can safely provide services in remote and dangerous areas where help is most needed.
The group whose workers were slain, the New York-based International Rescue Committee, announced it was suspending its Afghan humanitarian programs indefinitely.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the killings, saying their fighters attacked two vehicles of "the foreign invader forces."
"They were not working for the interests of Afghanistan and they belonged to those countries whose forces . . . took Afghanistan's freedom," Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a phone call from an undisclosed location.
The aid group identified the women killed in Logar Province as a dual Trinidadian-American citizen, a Canadian, and a dual British-Canadian citizen.
"These extraordinary individuals were deeply committed to aiding the people of Afghanistan, especially the children who have seen so much strife," said George Rupp, president of the International Rescue Committee.
The women were driving from the eastern province of Paktia to Kabul in a white SUV marked with IRC stickers, said Abdullah Khan, deputy counterterrorism director in Logar.
Five men armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles stepped out of a village area and fired at the two aid vehicles, Khan said, citing a report from an Afghan IRC employee wounded in the second vehicle.
At the Pul-e-Alam hospital, IRC driver Abdurrahman Khan wept while helping load two of the victims' bodies onto the back of a truck.
"They were here helping Afghan people," he said. "They were not carrying weapons."
All four victims suffered multiple bullet wounds, Dr. Mir Mabub Shah said
With yesterday's attack, at least 23 workers have been slain by militants in 2008, compared with 15 in all of 2007, according to a recent report from ANSO, a security group that works for aid organizations in the country.
Kai Eide, the top UN official in Kabul, called the assault a "cowardly attack."
"The IRC provides lifesaving humanitarian assistance to those most affected by the conflict and it is reprehensible that such selfless individuals working for the most vulnerable communities should be deliberately targeted," Eide said.