Mehrab Ibrahimi / AP
KABUL, Afghanistan – Gunmen opened fire on Tuesday evening at dozens of deminers working for a British charity, killing 10 men and injuring 16 others. The incident occurred in the northern Afghan province of Baghlan, according to the charity HALO Trust and the Afghan Interior Ministry.
A video shared by TOLO news in Afghanistan The site showed men transporting the wounded to a hospital in the provincial capital of Pul-e-Khumri. One was transported on a stretcher; two men hoisted another up.
It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack.
The HALO Trust was founded in Kabul in 1988 with the mission of clearing conflict zones and has worked in the country since then, employing more than 2,600 Afghans, according to its website. He claims to have “secured nearly 80 percent of the landmine fields and recorded battlefields in the country,” and also supports landmine victims.
The association is registered in the UK and works in conflict zones around the world. It rose to prominence after Princess Diana walked through one of her minefields in Angola in 1997.
The attack highlighted deteriorating security across Afghanistan as the United States and its foreign allies pull troops and equipment out of the country, even as government forces struggle to keep the Taliban at bay.
Insurgents have taken some 17 districts across Afghanistan in recent weeks, according to local media. More recently, they invaded Jaghatu district which straddles the provinces of Maidan Wardak and Ghazni, south of Kabul. The Taliban too claimed to have shot down an Afghan military plane who apparently tried to disembark to supply forces. An Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian told NPR the plane crashed due to technical errors, killing three crew members.
In Baghlan province, the gunmen began their attack as some 110 workers gathered at the HALO Trust camp, “having completed their work on nearby minefields,” the trust said in a statement. posted on twitter.
Although the Taliban clashed with Afghan forces in Baghlan and even captured Burka district earlier in May, the provincial vice-governor said there had been no fighting in the area. at the time of the attack.
Mahboobullah Ghafari said men from HALO Trust had been working in the area for three days and had pitched tents in a central area known as Sheikh Jalal.
He said the thieves were probably behind the attack. “It was thieves who went there – the [group] had machines they wanted to steal. But when they saw a lot of guys inside the tent, they opened fire. “
But the Afghan government blamed the Taliban. “The Taliban terrorists claim they will protect the people who are there to help, but they do otherwise,” Interior Ministry spokesman Arian told NPR.
The Taliban denied the accusation. A spokesperson who uses the name Zabihullah Mujahid told NPR they condemned the attack. He added on Twitter that they regard such attacks as “brutality”.
“Our mujahedin will never commit such brutal acts,” he wrote.
In a statement, the United Nations condemned the killings.
“It is repugnant that an organization that works to eliminate landmines and other explosives and improve the lives of vulnerable people can be targeted,” said Ramiz Alakbarov, the UN humanitarian coordinator. He called for a “full investigation to ensure those responsible for any violations are held accountable and brought to justice.”
The Afghan government has not undertaken serious or satisfactory investigations into a horror of militant attacks that have struck its citizens over the years, Human Rights Watch said. The group says the government has also failed to investigate the killings of journalists, human rights activists, clerics and court workers which began to escalate after the Afghan government began peace talks. with the Taliban.
Khwaga Ghani reported from Kabul. Diaa Hadid reported from Fremantle, Australia. Abdul Sattar contributed reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan.