At least 10 people have been killed and 16 others injured in an armed attack on staff members of a British-American charity in Afghanistan that has been clearing land mines in the country for decades, officials said on Wednesday.
Tariq Arian, a spokesman for the country’s interior ministry, blamed the Taliban for the attack, which occurred late on Tuesday at a demining camp in the northeastern province of Baghlan and targeted employees of the Halo Trust. He said the victims were all Afghan citizens, and the wounded were transferred to hospitals.
Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, denied any involvement and said that the area where the “horrifying” attack had taken place was not under the militant group’s control. He added in a post on Twitter: “We condemn attacks on the defenceless and view it as brutality. We have normal relations with NGOs, our Mujahidin will never carry out such brutal acts.”
The Halo Trust condemned the attack in a statement on Wednesday. It said that 110 men from local communities had been carrying out humanitarian work at the demining camp during the attack by an “unknown armed group”.
Tolo News, a network in Afghanistan, published footage on Twitter that it said showed people injured in the attack being taken on stretchers to a public hospital in Pul-e-Khumri, a city about 225km north of Kabul, the capital.
Baghlan province is one of the places where the Taliban have been attacking in recent weeks as they have seized control of territory and military outposts in several parts of the country. One attack on a security depot there in late May killed eight territorial army soldiers and wounded 10 others.
The Taliban’s advances coincide with the withdrawal of United States troops and their Nato (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) allies from the country, a process that is expected to end by early to mid-July. Officials in the Biden administration, which is eager to prevent the country’s cities from falling to the Taliban, are debating whether US warplanes should provide air support to Afghan forces.
The Halo Trust, a British charity with an American affiliate registered in Washington, began working in Afghanistan in 1988. Its field teams clear land mines, dispose of unexploded ordnance found in bombs and bullets, and build facilities to store guns and other weapons safely. The group has programmes in 26 countries and territories, including in Iraq, where it began working in 2018.
The Halo programme in Afghanistan, which started months before the Soviet army pulled out of the country in 1989, employs more than 2,600 local staff members and remains the group’s largest operation in the world. – New York Times