Taliban Overruns International NGO’s Office In Kabul Attack
Taliban militants stormed a US-funded aid group’s central Kabul compound in an ongoing attack Tuesday, having targeted the organisation for promoting Western culture and the “inter-mixing” of men and women.
At least nine people were wounded in the latest attack to rock the Afghan capital, which came even as US and Taliban officials were meeting in Qatar for talks aimed at bringing an end to Afghanistan’s war.
The assault began around midday (0730 GMT) when a massive blast tore across Kabul. Interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said attackers then entered the compound of Counterpart International, a non-profit group funded at least in part by the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
“The police have surrounded the area and a clearing operation is ongoing,” Rahimi said, later adding that in the hours following the initial blast, 169 people were rescued from the site.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid quickly claimed responsibility for the attack, saying Counterpart International was targeted because it promoted the “inter-mixing” of men and women.
The aid group mentored “Kabul admin workers in various aspects of brutality, oppression, terror, anti-Islamic ideology & promotion of western culture,” Mujahid said on Twitter.
The counterpart was not immediately available to comment, but the group’s website says it runs a USAID-funded Afghan civic engagement programme supporting women and other marginalised groups across Afghanistan.
Emergency, an Italian-run trauma center in Kabul, said it had received 15 patients so far. Wahidullah Mayar, the spokesman for the ministry of public health, said at least nine people had been wounded.
The huge explosion shook nearby buildings and shattered windows.
“We started running out of the building and while running outside, I heard small gunfire and the sound of grenades going off nearby,” said Akbar Khan Sahadat, a prosecutor in the Attorney General’s office which was close to the scene of the blast.
John Bass, the US ambassador to Afghanistan, said he strongly condemned the attack against the US non-governmental organisation.
“The targeted organization helps local communities, trains journalists and supports the Afghan people,” he said on Twitter.
“For this, it is the target of senseless violence,” he added, thanking local security forces for their rapid response.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said the attack was “particularly deplorable, hitting civilians helping Afghans & taking place during Ramadan”.
Difficult peace talks
The Taliban are notorious for their treatment of women during their reign from 1996-2001 when the Islamist extremists kept women locked up in houses, barred them from getting an education and sometimes stoned them to death on flimsy allegations of adultery.
Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban’s political spokesman, told AFP earlier this week that the latest round of peace talks, currently taking place in Doha, had become bogged down over the issue of when foreign forces might withdraw in return for the Taliban security guarantees.
The two foes are hammering out a deal that could see foreign forces leave Afghanistan in return for a ceasefire, talks between the government and the Taliban, and a guarantee the country will not be used as a safe haven for terror groups.
The talks follow a massive peace summit in Kabul last week where President Ashraf Ghani offered the Taliban a ceasefire to begin on the first day of Ramadan — but the insurgents refused.
The insurgents have rebuffed repeated calls to halt fighting over the last year as they seek to gain leverage at the negotiating table by pressing the fight on the battlefield.
Last year the Taliban announced a three-day ceasefire at the end of Ramadan after Ghani declared a unilateral truce for eight days earlier in the month, in the first formal nationwide ceasefire since the US-led invasion of 2001.
Since then the insurgents have steadfastly refused to talk to Ghani, who they view as a US puppet, and talks thus far have cut out his government.
According to Counterpart International’s website, the organisation was founded in 1965 by Australian actress Betty Bryant Silverstein and a priest called Father Stan Hosie.
Officials earlier wrongly identified the target of Tuesday’s attack as the nearby CARE International.