A Grim Day in Afghanistan, 10 Aid Workers Found Dead

Doctors perform an eye operation at one of the International Assistance Mission's hospitals in Afghanistan. Ten members affiliated with the non-profit organization who were returning from an eye care medical mission from Nuristan were killed by the Taliban. Photo by: IAM

In what is perhaps the deadliest attack on aid workers in Afghanistan in recent years, 10 members of a medical team affiliated with an international charity were found dead Aug. 7 in the country’s northeastern region.

The bodies of the six Americans, one British, one German and two Afghans were recovered in the province of Badakhshan and flown to Kabul Aug. 8. The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack, accusing the team of being spies and missionaries, news agencies report.

Members of the international community have strongly condemned the ambush, which one aid official said is the “the worst attack on humanitarian workers in 30 years.” It occurred more than a month after a deadly attack on the compound housing the offices of a U.S. contractor in Afghanistan’s Kunduz province, where five aid workers were killed.

The medical team was reportedly returning from an eye care medical mission from the neighboring province of Nuristan when they were stopped and gunned down by insurgents.

“Yesterday at around 0800 (0330 GMT), one of our patrols confronted a group of foreigners. They were Christian missionaries and we killed them all,” Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, told news agencies.

The Kabul-based International Assistance Mission, which organized the two-week medical initiative, denied the Taliban’s allegations. IAM Director Dirk Frans explained that while the group is a registered Christian nonprofit, it does not proselytize.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also slammed the Taliban for what she said were “false accusations.”

In a statement, Clinton said: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this senseless act. We also condemn the Taliban’s transparent attempt to justify the unjustifiable by making false accusations about their activities in Afghanistan.” 

The ambush represented the second highest death toll for U.S. civilians working in Afghanistan, following the death of seven Central Intelligence Agency members in eastern Afghanistan in December 2009, the LA Times says.

Meanwhile, several organizations said they are concerned about the implication of the attack on humanitarian work in Afghanistan.

“This can only detrimentally affect and undermine the work carried out by the medical community in the country, and the Afghan people relying heavily on this much-needed assistance,” according to Medecins Sans Frontieres.

The incident has prompted several NGOs to rethink their security procedures and operations in Afghanistan.

“It will have very serious implications and make us revisit our security protocols. It cannot just be business as usual,” Farhana Faruqi-Stocker, managing director of U.K.-based Afghanaid said, as quoted by the Guardian.

Frans said IAM might scale back its operations in the area. But “it’s rather unlikely we’ll withdraw completely,” the director added, according to The Wall Street Journal. 

Some analysts noted that the ambush hints at a possible growth of Taliban forces in northeastern Afghanistan. Badakhshan, where the killing occurred, has always been a relatively secure area, according to news agencies. However, Taliban forces are known to be operating freely in Nuristan following the recent pullout of U.S. military forces from the province.

Frans said the medical team chose to pass through the province thinking it was the safest route back to Kabul.

About the author

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    Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.