Targeted killings in Afghanistan began last year as peace talks were launched between the Afghan government and the Taliban, and they are now a near-daily occurrence in cities such as the capital, Kabul and Jalalabad.
The Afghan government blames the Taliban for the attacks, but the movement denies involvement, and nearly all the killings go unclaimed. Dozens of people have been killed, including government employees, journalists, civil-society activists, doctors, professors and religious figures.
Earlier this month, three female journalists working for a local television network were gunned down in the same province, Nangahar, in two attacks that officials believe were coordinated. Both the Taliban and the Islamic State are active in the province, which has long contained pockets of territory beyond government control.
The United States is pushing for a quick peace deal between the Taliban and the Afghan government ahead of a May 1 withdrawal deadline for U.S. troops. A conference is planned in Turkey next month to accelerate talks in Qatar that have been stalled for months, but no date has been set, and it is unclear who will attend.
The women killed Tuesday were part of a five-day nationwide polio vaccination campaign that began Monday, aiming to vaccinate 9.6 million children across Afghanistan, according to the Health Ministry. Tens of thousands of Afghans volunteered to take part in the vaccination drive. The work requires volunteers to go door-to-door to ensure all families have been vaccinated.
“An attack on health workers is an attack on the entire people [of Afghanistan], and we strongly condemn it,” said Ghulam Dastagir Nazari, the spokesman for the ministry.
Afghanistan and Pakistan are the only two countries in the world where polio remains endemic. Just this year, 24 polio cases have been registered in Afghanistan, according to the ministry.