- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 14, 2008

PUL-E-ALAM, Afghanistan | Taliban fighters with assault rifles shredded a U.S. aid group’s vehicle with dozens of bullets Wednesday, killing three Western women and their Afghan driver amid an escalating militant onslaught against humanitarian workers in Afghanistan.

The ambush of two clearly marked aid vehicles on the main road south of Kabul was the latest in a record number of attacks on aid groups this year - a surge that has workers questioning if they can safely provide services in remote and dangerous areas where help is most needed.

The group whose workers were slain, the New York-based International Rescue Committee (IRC), announced it was suspending its Afghan humanitarian programs indefinitely.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the killings, saying its fighters attacked 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.

Mujahid called the women spies, a frequent Taliban accusation against its targets.

The aid group said the three women killed in Logar province were a dual Trinidadian-American citizen, a Canadian and a dual national British-Canadian.

“These extraordinary individuals were deeply committed to aiding the people of Afghanistan, especially the children who have seen so much strife,” said IRC President George Rupp.

The women were driving from the eastern province of Paktia to Kabul in a white sport utility vehicle marked with IRC stickers, said Abdullah Khan, deputy counterterrorism director in Logar.

Five men armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles stepped out of a village area and fired at the two aid vehicles, Mr. Khan said, citing a report from an Afghan IRC employee wounded in the second vehicle. The women’s SUV was hit by dozens of bullets, Mr. Khan said.

At the Pul-e-Alam hospital, IRC driver Abdurrahman Khan wept while helping load two of the victims’ bodies onto the back of a truck.

“They were here helping Afghan people,” he said. “They were not carrying weapons.”

All four victims suffered multiple bullet wounds, Dr. Mir Mabub Shah said as three female Afghan nurses shrouded the three dead women in white cloth before putting them in wooden coffins.

With Wednesday’s attack, at least 23 aid workers have been slain by militants in 2008, compared with 15 in all of 2007, according to a recent report from ANSO, a security group that works for aid organizations in the country. ANSO said 2008 is on track to be the deadliest year for aid workers in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion ended Taliban rule in late 2001.

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