Both the Taliban and the Hizb-i-Islam Gulbuddin claimed to have killed 10 medical personnel, including eight foreigners, during an ambush in the remote northeastern province of Badakhshan.
The 10 aid workers were traveling to Kabul from Nuristan province, and passed through a forest in Badakhshan, where they were ambushed and executed on Thursday, Aqa Noor Kintoz, the Provincial Police Chief of Badakhshan told TOLOnews.
“These ten persons came to Badakhshan through Panjshir, and introduced themselves as doctors, and returned to Nuristan after a few days,” the police chief said. “While returning from Nuristan province to Keran district of Badakhshan, ten militants followed them on the way, killing them after they escaped to the jungles, and they took their money as well.”
Six of the medical workers killed were Americans, two were Afghans, one was a Briton, and another was a German, Voice of America reported. Two other Afghans with the group escaped; one claimed he was freed after he recited passages from the Koran.
A spokesman from Hizb-i-Islami Gulbuddin, or HIG, contacted TOLOnews and said the 10 medical workers were killed because they were “spies” who “had gone to the province for espionage.” A Hizb-i-Islami spokesman also contacted Pajhwok Afghan News to claim the attack.
A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, also claimed the murder of the 10 aid workers and said they were killed for proselytizing Christianity. Mujahid told Reuters that the medical team had Bibles translated in Dari in their possession when they were shot and killed.
The 10 medical workers worked for International Assistance Mission, “an international charitable, non-profit, Christian organization, serving the people of Afghanistan, through capacity building in the sectors of Health and Economic Development,” according to the group’s website. The director of International Assistance Mission told Voice of America that the medical workers were not missionaries.
“This tragedy negatively impacts our ability to continue serving the Afghan people as IAM has been doing since 1966,” said a statement released on the International Assistance Mission website. “We hope it will not stop our work that benefits over a quarter of a million Afghans each year.”
Security in Badakhshan and the neighboring province of Takhar has deteriorated over the past year as US forces have withdrawn from remote districts in nearby Kunar and Nuristan provinces. Attacks against the government, Afghan security forces, and civilians have spiked in Badakhshan and Takhar. Afghan intelligence officials have intercepted rogue Pakistani Frontier Corps personnel and Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence directorate agents penetrating Badakhshan from Kunar over the past year.
Background on Hekmatyar and HIG
The Taliban and HIG often conduct operations jointly in northern and eastern Afghanistan. HIG, along with the Haqqani Network and Mullah Omar’s Quetta Shura, make up the three strongest terror groups in Afghanistan. All have close ties to al Qaeda and other jihadist groups based in Pakistan and Central Asia.
HIG is led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a notorious opportunist who has ties with al Qaeda, Iran, and Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment.
Hekmatyar was a key player in the Soviet-Afghan war and led one of the biggest insurgent factions against Soviet and Afghan communist forces. But Hekmatyar’s brutal battlefield tactics and wanton destruction of Kabul following the collapse of the Afghan Communist regime in the early 1990s led to the demise of his popularity. The Taliban overran his last stronghold south of Kabul in 1995 and forced him into exile in Iran from 1996-2002.
HIG forces have conducted attacks in northern and northeastern Afghanistan, and have bases in Pakistan’s Swat Valley as well as in the tribal agencies of Bajaur, Mohmand, and North and South Waziristan.
In May 2006, Hekmatyar swore alliance to al Qaeda’s top leader, Osama bin Laden. “We thank all Arab mujahideen, particularly Sheikh Osama Bin Laden, Dr. Ayman al Zawahiri, and other leaders who helped us in our jihad against the Russians,” he said in a recording broadcast by Al Jazeera.
“They fought our enemies and made dear sacrifices,” Hekmatyar continued. “Neither we nor the future generations will forget this great favor. We beseech Almighty God to grant us success and help us fulfill our duty toward them and enable us to return their favor and reciprocate their support and sacrifices. We hope to take part with them in a battle which they will lead and raise its banner. We stand beside and support them.”
Despite Hekmatyar’s pledge to al Qaeda, senior US generals have stated that he can be weaned from the insurgency and brought into the Afghan government. Earlier this year, Major General Michael Flynn, the top intelligence official in Afghanistan, called both Hekmatyar and Jalaluddin “Haqqani “absolutely salvageable” even if they currently support and harbor al Qaeda.
“The HIG already have members in Karzai’s government, and it could evolve into a political party, even though Hekmatyar may be providing al Qaeda leaders refuge in Kunar,” Flynn told The Atlantic. “Hekmatyar has reconcilable ambitions.”
Sir Graeme Lamb, a senior adviser to General McChrystal, the former ISAF commander, echoed Flynn’s view on Hekmatyar and Haqqani, and discounted the groups’ close ties to al Qaeda.
“Haqqani and Hekmatyar are pragmatists tied to the probability of outcomes,” Lamb also told The Atlantic. “With all the talk of Islamic ideology, this is the land of the deal.”
Many Western observers believe a peace deal can be reached with Hekmatyar. Several of his representatives have met Afghan government representatives in talks over the past year, and many people were excited when Hekmatyar released a so-called peace plan in February and again in March. The plan called for the full withdrawal of NATO forces by the summer of 2011 and the dismissal of the Afghan government.