Islamic State Khorasan Province, IS’ branch in Afghanistan, has claimed responsibility for a Tuesday attack on Halo Trust mine clearers in the northern Afghan province of Baghlan that killed ten and injured 16.
According to a statement by the Halo Trust, the attack occurred at 9:50PM local time, when attackers entered a demining camp and began firing on the around 110 men in the camp. The mine clearers had returned to the camp after spending the day clearing mines from nearby fields. The Halo Trust are one of the world’s largest humanitarian landmine clearance charity, active in over 20 countries.
In an appearance on the BBC’s Afghan service, Halo Trust CEO James Cowan said that the attackers had specifically targeted members of Afghanistan’s Hazara minority, with the attackers going “bed to bed” in search of Hazara mine clearers to kill. He described “this kind of cold-blooded killing” as something that was not expected, even by the standards of the current security situation in Afghanistan.
Prior to IS Khorasan claiming responsibility for the attack through its Telegram messaging channels, the Afghan government blamed the Taliban for the attack. The Taliban denied the allegations, with Cowan also saying to BBC Radio 4’s Today that the local Taliban had come to the mine clearers’ aid and scared off the assailants. He added that he believed that the Halo Trust was able to “operate on both sides of the line” amidst the current fighting.
In a video statement posted on Twitter following the attack, Cowan said that the Halo Trust would continue its demining work in Afghanistan despite the attack and the impending withdrawal of NATO forces. He said that “We are there for the people of Afghanistan, and we still have a job to do”, noting that the trust had been active in Afghanistan a full decade before 9/11 and the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan.
The United Nations has issued a condemnation of the attack, with spokesman Stéphane Dujarric calling for a full investigation into the “horrendous” attack. Condemnations were also issued by the UN Mine Action Service and the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Afghanistan, Dr. Ramiz Alakbarov.
While the majority of public attention has been on fighting between the Taliban and government forces, IS Khorasan has been mounting increasingly brazen and brutal attacks on civilian targets throughout Afghanistan, like an attack on a Kabul girls’ school last month that killed 85 and wounded 146. With the Taliban and Kabul preoccupied with fighting each other, IS Khorasan has been able to steadily expand its abilities to mount such attacks, further compounding the already rapidly deteriorating security situation.