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Taliban Ambush Kills 3 More Western Aid Workers

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

"The car was clearly marked. They were clearly not military personnel and this is a major concern not only to us but to all those who are in humanitarian community in Afghanistan," said Aleem Siddique, a spokesman for the United Nations mission in Afghanistan.

The International Rescue Committee has been working in Afghanistan for 20 years. In the 1980s, the group provided medical aid to Afghan refugees fleeing into Pakistan during the Soviet occupation.

Since the ouster of the Taliban's hard-line Islamic regime, the group has also been involved with the National Solidarity Program, a community-based development program funded by the World Bank through the Afghan government and implemented by international aid groups.

Anna Husarska, a senior policy adviser for IRC, wrote in an opinion piece for Los Angeles Times in May that insurgents are attacking all those seen as helping the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

"Since they oppose the current government, they also oppose those who work with it," she wrote. "And unfortunately, they don't differentiate among armed multinational forces, security contractors and humanitarian groups."

Kai Eide, the top U.N. official in Kabul, called the assault a "cowardly attack."

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