By Candace Rondeaux and Nora Boustany
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, August 14, 2008
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Aug. 13 -- Three Western women employed by a New York-based aid agency were killed along with their Afghan driver Wednesday by Taliban insurgents who ambushed their vehicle as it traveled south of the Afghan capital, Kabul.
The assault, the second fatal attack on employees of the International Rescue Committee in a little over a year, was part of an upswing in violence against civilian aid workers in Afghanistan in 2008.
"They were ambushed and murdered at 10:30 in the morning by numerous armed gunmen, and it was very, very fast," said Michael Kocher, the IRC's vice president of international programs. The four were in an SUV clearly marked as belonging to the agency, he said.
"They were absolutely committed, passionate, caring and highly effective workers, and they were purely on a humanitarian mission," Kocher said. His agency's operations were being temporarily suspended all over Afghanistan, he said, out of grief and to safeguard staff as security conditions are reassessed.
The IRC identified two of the women: Nicole Dial, 30, a dual citizen of the United States and Trinidad, and Jacqueline Kirk, 40, a dual citizen of Canada and Britain. The third woman, a Canadian, was not immediately named. The driver was identified as Mohammad Aimal, 25, of Kabul.
Taliban fighters asserted responsibility for the attack, saying the aid workers were spies trying to undermine Afghanistan, according to the Associated Press.
The three women were returning from meetings with Afghan officials in Sayed Habibullah village in Logar province, where they had been looking into an education program for mentally or physically disabled children, Kocher said.
Five men opened fire with assault rifles on the white SUV and another vehicle of the aid agency that was close by, according to witnesses and a committee employee who survived the attack.
The committee takes strong safety precautions, Kocher said.
"People only travel in broad daylight, in small groups. We equip them with extensive communication radio equipment so they can call ahead," he said. Afghan staff members who are well connected in local communities try to assure safe travel, he added.
Attacks on aid workers in Afghanistan have increased as the Taliban has stepped up operations. At least 23 workers have been killed this year, compared with 15 in all of 2007, the Associated Press reported. In July of last year, two of the committee's Afghan employees were shot dead in Logar.
More than 3,200 people have died in insurgency-related violence in Afghanistan in 2008. This year has also brought one of the highest casualty rates for NATO troops since the Afghanistan mission began in October 2001.
Boustany reported from Washington.