Masked gunmen killed 10 people working for the HALO Trust mine-clearing organization in northern Afghanistan, the Afghan Ministry of the Interior said yesterday, blaming the Taliban for the latest attack to rock the violence-wracked country.
The raid happened on Tuesday evening as dozens of deminers were relaxing in the HALO compound in Baghlan Province, after a day spent looking for ordnance in nearby fields.
Baghlan has seen fierce fighting in the past few months, with near-daily battles between the Taliban and government forces in several districts.
“The Taliban entered a compound of a mine-clearing agency ... and started shooting everyone,” ministry spokesman Tareq Arian told reporters.
The attackers were masked, said Jawed Basharat, spokesman for Baghlan Province’s governor.
The UK-based HALO Trust said that “an unknown armed group” killed 10 staff and wounded 16 others.
“Around 110 men, from local communities in northern Afghanistan, were in the camp,” the organization said.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied the insurgents were involved.
“We condemn attacks on the defenseless & view it as brutality,” he wrote on Twitter.
“We have normal relations with NGOs [non-governmental organizations], our mujahidin will never carry out such brutal acts,” he wrote.
UN Resident Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan Ramiz Alakbarov condemned what he said was a “heinous attack” on the workers.
“It is repugnant that an organization that works to clear landmines and other explosives, and better the lives of vulnerable people could be targeted,” he said in a statement.
Violence has surged across the country since May 1, when the US military began its final troop withdrawal amid a deadlock in peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
In several districts where fighting has been intense in recent months, the insurgents have planted roadside bombs and mines to target government forces, but the explosives often kill and wound civilians.
Afghanistan was already one of the most heavily mined countries in the world, a legacy of decades of conflict.
The HALO Trust was founded in 1988 specifically to tackle ordnance left following the nearly 10-year Soviet occupation, and became a favorite cause of Princess Diana.
The organization’s Web site says it has an Afghan workforce of more than 2,600, and has removed landmines from nearly 80 percent of the nation’s recorded minefields and battlefields.
Separately, the Taliban yesterday claimed it had shot down an Afghan military helicopter in the province of Wardak near Kabul, but the Afghan Ministry of Defense said the aircraft had crashed due to “technical reasons.”
Three crew members were killed in the incident, the defense ministry said.
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