KABUL, Afghanistan — In a shock to humanitarian aid workers, suicide bombers in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday assaulted the offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross, an organization that has worked in the country for more than 30 years without suffering a concerted attack and has received praise from all sides.
Security forces managed to evacuate all seven Western employees working in the Jalalabad compound, with only one injured, the provincial police said. One guard was killed and another wounded when one of the attackers blew himself up at the entrance to the compound, which caught fire after the blast. The other two attackers also died in the assault. The compound was surrounded by Afghan forces during and after the attack, police officials said.
The violence came as a shock to the Red Cross, which said it was the first time its offices had been attacked since it arrived in Afghanistan more than 30 years ago. The organization is widely respected by both sides of the conflict for its impartial approach to humanitarian assistance. In addition to aiding injured Afghan civilians of all political persuasions, the agency ferries messages to imprisoned Taliban detainees from their families, a service the Taliban praised in a statement last June.
“Presently the I.C.R.C. is providing valuable services by delivering letters to the prisoners and informing the families about their health condition, which is really a humanitarian service,” the statement said. It added that the Taliban condemned the torture and killings of Red Cross workers in Afghanistan and abroad, “because it is an impartial organization and works throughout the world for the needy, helpless and oppressed people.”
Although the Red Cross offices are patrolled by guards, the guards are not armed. “We do not travel with armed guards or armored vehicles since we are a neutral organization,” said Abdul Haseeb Rahimi, a Red Cross spokesman.
Mr. Rahimi was reluctant to lay blame for the attack, saying it was not clear yet whether the Red Cross was the intended target. The Indian Consulate and other international aid agencies are near the compound, where plumes of black smoke could be seen rising into the evening as the attack raged on. The Taliban did not immediately claim responsibility for the attack.
Militants have now attacked two aid organizations in a week, raising the targets of the summer fighting season to include more than just Afghan and coalition armed forces. Last week, insurgents mounted a complex attackon the International Organization for Migration, a United Nations agency, killing at least one person and injuring several others.
Western and Afghan officials have said they believe that this year, the final one before the withdrawal of coalition forces, will be one of the most violent since 2001. As insurgents fight to undermine confidence in the relatively untested Afghan security forces, such attacks have taken on new weight in the minds and psyches of the Afghan public.
In a boon for the Afghan forces, however, a separate attack in the anti-Taliban heartland was largely thwarted early Wednesday morning. Officials said Afghan forces had repelled an attack by seven suicide bombers on the governor’s compound in Panjshir Province.
The attack took place around 3:30 a.m. Wednesday in the verdant Panjshir Valley, a mountain stronghold for some of the Taliban’s fiercest Afghan opponents. One of the bombers managed to detonate his vest, causing heavy damage to the compound. Security forces killed five others, and a final bomber detonated his vest as he fled into the mountains, said Abdul Kabir Wasiq, a spokesman for the provincial governor. One policeman died in the fight, and at least three were injured, a provincial official said.
Nestled in northeastern Afghanistan, Panjshir has been a largely peaceful province, thanks to a heavy presence of armed forces and the rugged terrain. A single winding road passes through the deep valley — a feature that has stymied invaders for ages, including the Soviet military occupiers and, later, Taliban forces seeking to kill opposition forces loyal to a warlord, Ahmed Shah Massoud.
The assault was perhaps more symbolic than strategic, showing that a previously unthinkable target could fall within the cross hairs of Taliban efforts. With the warm-weather fighting season under way, and with corresponding attacks taking place across Afghanistan, it was also another way to underscore the country’s weakened security situation.
Wednesday’s efforts appear to have failed, for the most part. Security forces said they had been warned of a potential attack, and managed to defuse a car packed with explosives before it could be detonated. Although the governor’s compound was badly burned, the bombers failed to inflict the sort of mass casualties the Taliban were looking for.
Nonetheless, with typical bravado, the Taliban claimed to have killed as many as 44 “hireling soldiers” and six “invader advisers.”
“With this attack we showed the enemy that we can bring you under our thunderlike attack at any time and anywhere we want,” Qari Yusuf Ahmad, a Taliban spokesman, said in a statement.
Reporting was contributed by Sangar Rahimi, Habib Zahori and Jawad Sukhanyar from Kabul, and Khalid Alokozay from Jalalabad, Afghanistan.
Source: NY Times