Humanitarians under attack in Afghanistan

A member of the International Committee of the Red Cross gives assistance to flood victims of Faryab, Afghanistan. Two attacks occurred in the ICRC compound in the province of Jalalabad leaving some international staff wounded, and one suffering third-degree burns. Photo by: Stoessel, Marcel / International Committee of the Red Cross / CC BY-SA

The attack on an office of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Afghanistan on Wednesday paints a disturbing scenario for the international aid community in the war-torn country, where humanitarians are increasingly targeted by Taliban insurgents.

A suicide bomber blew himself up outside the ICRC’s compound in eastern province of Jalalabad, according to initial reports. The organization confirmed that one of its guards was killed, while an international staff member was “slightly wounded” and the rest of the expats  who were inside the premises  are now “safe and well.”

We condemn this attack in the strongest possible terms,” the ICRC said in a statement.

A government spokesman said two armed men stormed into the organization’s compound after the explosion, following the same modus operandi used less than a week ago by the insurgents that assaulted on May 24 the Kabul office of the International Organization for Migration, leaving four international staff wounded, among them an Italian who suffered third-degree burns.

IOM Kabul chief Richard Danziger told Devex on Wednesday their employee is now in “stable” condition.

The two incidents  which occurred barely within a week from each other  happened almost a month after the Taliban’s announcement of its annual “spring offensive,” raising serious security concerns for aid groups working in Afghanistan and testing the capacity of the fledgling local police force to respond to threats amid the impending drawdown of foreign troops.

Humanitarians targeted?

The Taliban has yet to claim responsibility for the latest violence, but explained that the May 24 attack targeted a “guesthouse” where foreigners, including alleged CIA agents, were staying.

“It’s very odd and we just gonna have to wait for the investigation because clearly, something went wrong somewhere […] We worked through the Taliban days. All over the country, we’re known as a humanitarian organization,” Danziger said.

The aid official previously said that it was clear that international staff were the primary targets. All international staff that suffered the attack have been declared on a “break,” and although the organization has resumed work, the damage to the compound is such that IOM staff will not likely return there soon.

IOM has been providing assistance to displaced Afghans for 21 years, while the the ICRC is globally known as a neutral, humanitarian organization, and the offices and vehicles of both organizations are clearly marked with their official logos.

Devex also reached out to a number of aid groups with operations across Afghanistan, but they declined to comment, citing security reasons.

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.