KABUL, Afghanistan – At least 10 people have been killed and 16 others injured in an armed attack on staff of an Anglo-American charity in Afghanistan that has cleared landmines in the country for decades, said Wednesday officials.
Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian blamed the Taliban for the attack on Tuesday night at a demining camp in northeastern Baghlan province targeting HALO Trust employees. He said the victims were all Afghan citizens and the injured had been transferred to hospitals.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesperson for the Taliban, denied any involvement and said the area where the “horrific” attack took place was not under the control of the militant group. He added in a post on Twitter: “We condemn the attacks on the helpless and regard them as brutality. We have normal relations with NGOs, our mujahedin will never commit such brutal acts.
The HALO Trust condemned the attack in a declaration Wednesday. He said 110 men from local communities carried out humanitarian work in the demining camp when an “unknown armed group” attacked.
Tolo News, an information network in Afghanistan, images posted on Twitter which she said showed people injured in the attack being carried on stretchers to a public hospital in Pul-e-Khumri, a town about 140 miles north of the capital Kabul.
Baghlan province is one of the places where the Taliban have attacked in recent weeks as they took control of territory and military outposts in several parts of the country. An attack on a security depot there in late May killed eight Territorial Army soldiers and injured 10 others.
The Taliban’s advances coincide with the withdrawal of US troops and their NATO allies from the country, a process expected to be completed by mid-July. Officials in the Biden administration, eager to prevent cities across the country from falling into Taliban hands, are questioning whether US warplanes should provide air support to Afghan forces.
Washington’s peace envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad ended a four-day visit to Kabul on Tuesday. Mr. Khalilzad is an Afghan-born American diplomat who led negotiations prior to the Trump administration’s February 2020 peace deal with the Taliban, which set the terms and timing for the US withdrawal.
The US embassy in Kabul said in a statement Wednesday that US leaders met their Afghan counterparts in the city this week and “agreed that maintaining political unity was essential during this period of transition.”
The HALO Trust, a UK charity with a US affiliate registered in Washington, began working in Afghanistan in 1988. Its field teams clear landmines, dispose of unexploded ordnance found in bombs and bullets, and build landmines. facilities for the safe storage of firearms and other weapons. The group has programs in 26 countries and territories, including Iraq, where it started working in 2018.
The HALO program in Afghanistan, which began months before the Soviet army’s withdrawal from the country in 1989, employs more than 2,600 local personnel and remains the group’s largest operation in the world. HALO says on its website that over the past 30 years, it has worked with the Afghan government to secure nearly 80 percent of the country’s registered minefields and battlefields.
Yet, according to the group, an area of Afghanistan as large as Chicago has yet to be cleaned up.
Diana, Princess of Wales, drew attention to HALO’s work in 1997, when she walked through a minefield in Angola, once home to one of Africa’s most violent Cold War conflicts, to highlight the danger of mines in the world.
Diana’s youngest son Prince Harry retraced his steps in 2019 on a trip across the continent with his wife, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, and their son. HALO said at the time that it had cleared around 100,000 mines in Angola since Diana’s visit.
Najim Rahim reported in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Mike ives from Hong Kong. Fatima Faizi contributed to Kabul reporting.