PUL-E-ALAM, Afghanistan — Taliban fighters wielding Kalashnikov rifles fired dozens of bullets into an aid agency’s SUV on Wednesday, killing three female western workers — a Canadian, a British-Canadian and an American-Trinidadian — along with their Afghan driver.
The assault on two clearly marked aid vehicles on the main road south of Kabul comes amid a spike in militant attacks on aid groups this year. Some relief workers are now questioning whether they can still work in remote areas where the help is most needed.
The three killed in Logar province, just south of Kabul, worked for the New York-based International Rescue Committee, said Melissa Winkler, a spokeswoman. She gave their nationalities as a Trinidadian-American, a dual British-Canadian national and a Canadian.
Michael Kocher, IRC’s vice-president of international programs, said “this was simply a murderous act against humanitarian workers — committed individuals who were there to assist the people of Afghanistan.”
Mr. Kocher identified the 40-year-old British-Canadian as Jacqueline Kirk of Outremont, Que. She had been the education program adviser for the IRC since 2004.
Wednesday afternoon Ms. Kirk’s husband Andrew Kirk told CTV that his wife had been going to Afghanistan off and on since 2004. He said they realized there were risks, but thought they were well managed. “She said she felt quite safe there.”
The other Canadian killed was 31 years old and had been in Afghanistan for less than a year. Mr. Kocher said her family asked that her name be withheld until all siblings and relatives have been notified.
Also killed was Nicole Dial, 32, a dual citizen of Trinidad and the United States, who was the IRC’s co-ordinator for children’s program, Kocher said.
The driver killed was Mohammad Aimal, 25, who had worked for the IRC for five years.
Another driver, hospitalized in stable condition in Kabul, is 30 years old. Mr. Kocher said the IRC was not releasing his name.
“These extraordinary individuals were deeply committed to aiding the people of Afghanistan, especially the children who have seen so much strife,” said George Rupp, the president of the IRC.
The group said it has suspended its humanitarian aid programs indefinitely in Afghanistan.
Five gunmen armed with assault rifles stepped out of a small village area and fired at the vehicles, said Abdullah Khan, the deputy counterterrorism director in Logar, citing an Afghan IRC employee injured in the attack who was travelling in a second vehicle.
The women’s vehicle, a white SUV, was hit by dozens of bullets, said Mr. Khan.
The women were driving from the eastern province of Paktia to Kabul in a vehicle marked with IRC stickers when they were attacked.
The Taliban claimed responsibility, saying the target was two vehicles of “the foreign invader forces.”
“They were not working for the interests of Afghanistan and they belonged to those countries whose forces … took Afghanistan’s freedom,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told The Associated Press in a phone call from an undisclosed location.
Mr. Mujahid called the women spies, a frequent Taliban accusation.
The Taliban entered Afghanistan with the support of the Pakistani government of Benazir Bhutto and the US after the Russians pulled out and established “order”, with the tacit approval of the Pashtun population of the country. The order they established among tribal warlords was not to the liking of many Afghanis, especially women, nor, eventually, when they became a threat, to Western powers. Nevertheless, Afghanistan did become some version of a sovereign state under the Taliban. Whether we like it or not, it’s hardly surprising that the Taliban consider all outside comers to the country to be “foreign invaders”.
Stephen Harper says this attack is just more proof of the brutality of the Taliban and their lack of adherence to international standards of warfare. Apparently, we are only in Afghanistan to “help rebuild the country”. That’s simply a lie.
When the West can be proud of its own adherence to international standards of warfare, we may regain the right to make such judgments. When we stop invading foreign countries in order to secure our own safety and stabilize access to oil resources, perhaps we will be in a position to assist sovereign nations and people in successfully competing in international markets while extending human rights to their citizens. At the moment, our own motives are shifting and de-stabilizing. No one is safe.
BTW, the Lehrer News Hour called this incident “the death of one American woman and two other aid workers”. “Other” aid workers? I’ve remarked often on the invisibility of Afghans killed in this war. Canadian aid worders and forces and those of NATO in general are also invisible.