By Joshua Corpuz
In the Jowzjan Province of Afghanistan, six International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) employees were killed and two others went missing after an attack on February 8. The ICRC employees were carrying supplies to towns and villages suffering from the snowstorms and avalanches in the northern area of the country that killed over 100 people.
Governor Lutfullah Azizi of the Jowzjan Province blamed the Islamic State group’s affiliates for the attack. The motive behind the attack was believed to be a desire to maintain the Islamic State’s military footholds in the northern and eastern regions of Afghanistan.
Marie Claire Feghali, ICRC spokesperson, told Al Jazeera that the organization “makes contact with all the groups that are active on the ground.” “We do not know why our convoy was attacked,” Feghali stated, noting that her team “would have made all the contacts and they were in clearly marked ICRC cars.”
According to The New York Times, the Red Cross “had begun a mission to distribute livestock material in the Qush Tepah area of Jowzjan Province, where the attack happened, but that its work was paused by recent avalanches. When workers went to resume giving out aid, they were targeted.” Mr. Azizi stressed that the area “is rife with militant groups, including five Islamic State factions with about 200 fighters total.”
As a result of the attacks on its employees, the Red Cross placed all of its activities on hold. The ICRC global operations head, Dominik Stillhart, reported that “As we speak our operations are on hold indeed, because we need to understand what exactly happened before we can hopefully resume our operations,” according to Reuters.
A search operation was launched to find the two missing aid workers. The ICRC noted, however, that due to the conflict and violence in the area, it has been very difficult to mobilize and bring humanitarian aid to parts of Afghanistan.
Zabiullah Mujahid, spokesman for the Taliban, stated that “his group was not involved in the attack and promised that Taliban members would put all their efforts into finding the perpetrators.” At this time, the ICRC workers’ bodies had been taken to the provincial capital.
According to Stillhart, “ICRC would pause its programs out of respect for the slain aid workers. A date to resume the humanitarian aid has not been announced yet. Thomas Glass, a public relations officer for ICRC, explained that “We’ve been in Afghanistan for the past 30 years assisting people in need. We want to provide aid and help but not at the cost of our colleagues. So we need to know what happened before we restart our humanitarian efforts.”
The attack came a day after a suicide bomb was detonated in the parking lot of the Supreme Court in Kabul, the country’s capital. At least 20 people were killed, and at least 35 people injured from the blast. Later on, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack through Twitter.
Starting in 2015, former Taliban members, now members of the Islamic State, began to terrorize parts of Afghanistan. After a year, the United Nations said that “in 2016 there was a tenfold jump in civilian casualties caused in attacks by the Islamic State.”
According to Al Jazeera, the February 8 attack was “one of the few incidents” in the country’s north carried out by ISIS, which has been mainly active in the east. The Islamic State has been trying to establish a foothold in Afghanistan and has stepped attacks around the country, mainly targeting the Shi’ite Muslim minority community.