The International Rescue Committee is temporarily suspending its operations in Afghanistan following the brutal killing of five of its local staff members, the latest in a string of violent attacks against aid groups in the country in just about three months.
The aid workers, who were in their 20s, were part of a development project in Herat province under the Afghan government’s National Solidarity Program, of which IRC is a facilitating partner.
Four of them were engineers and one was a master trainer, according to a spokesperson from the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development of Afghanistan, which also lost one of its employees in the attack.
The six were returning to work on Sunday following the Eid al-Fitr holidays when armed men stopped their taxi and pulled them out. The bodies were reportedly “delivered” on Aug. 26 in a local hospital in Herat.
Sympathies for the aid workers poured in on social media from fellow NGOs that are facing similar threats in the country.
The incident took place three months after alleged Taliban insurgents stormed the compounds of the International Organization for Migration and the International Committee of the Red Cross in Kabul and Jalalabad in Nangarhar province, respectively, leaving four wounded, among them Italian Barbara De Anna, who suffered third-degree burns and died on June 20.
In a statement released on Tuesday, outgoing IRC President George Rupp said the organization was “devastated and grief-stricken by the deaths of our colleagues who were all working to make a better Afghanistan.”
This is the second time the aid group has lost staff members in Afghanistan. In 2008, IRC also suspended operations in the country following an ambush in Logar province that led to the death of four of its aid workers, three of them foreigners.
IRC noted it has no information on the motivations behind the killing, although the Afghan government is convinced the attack was carried out by the Taliban and its “foreign masters” who oppose the country’s development.
They want “Afghanistan to remain a dependent and poor country forever,” President Hamid Karzai was quoted as saying during his trip to Pakistan on Monday.
Afghan minister for Rural Rehabilitation and Development Wais Ahmad Barmak meanwhile commented that the “evil and merciless killing … has no justification and should be condemned by each and everyone.”
The heightened insecurity in Afghanistan comes as the date for foreign troops to leave the country approaches, raising serious concerns over the local police’s capacity to deal with the threats, including for aid workers deployed in the the country.
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