Masked gunmen killed 10 people working for the HALO Trust mine-clearing organization in northern Afghanistan, the interior ministry said Wednesday, blaming the Taliban for the latest attack to rock the violence-wracked country.
“The Taliban entered a compound of a mine-clearing agency… and started shooting everyone,” interior ministry spokesman Tareq Arian told reporters.
The UK-based HALO Trust told AFP “an unknown armed group” killed 10 staff and wounded 16 others.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied the insurgents were involved in the attack. “We condemn attacks on the defenseless & view it as brutality,” he said on Twitter. “We have normal relations with NGOs, our Mujahidin will never carry out such brutal acts.”
The raid happened around 10 pm (1730 GMT) Tuesday when dozens of deminers were relaxing in the HALO compound after a day spent removing ordnance from nearby minefields, around 260 kilometers (160 miles) north of the capital, Kabul.
“Around 110 men, from local communities in northern Afghanistan, were in the camp,” HALO said.
Baghlan province governor’s spokesman Jawed Basharat told AFP the attackers wore masks. Baghlan province has seen fierce fighting in recent months, with near-daily battles between the Taliban and government forces in several districts.
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 near ten-year Soviet occupation, and became a favorite cause of Britain’s Princess Diana.
— The HALO Trust (@TheHALOTrust) June 9, 2021
The organization’s website says it has an Aghan workforce of more than 2,600 and has removed landmines from nearly 80 percent of the country’s recorded minefields and battlefields.
On Wednesday, the Taliban claimed it had shot down an Afghan military helicopter in the province of Wardak near Kabul, but the defense ministry said the aircraft had crashed due to “technical reasons.”
Three crew members were killed in the incident, the ministry said.