Late Monday night, in Afghanistan, murderers entered the HALO Trust demining camp in Baghlan Province and killed 10 HALO staff members while injuring 16 more. Over 110 deminers from the local villages were in the camp when the terrorists began their war crimes against unarmed non-combatants. The weary victims had just started to rest from a long day in the minefields where they were trying to make life safer for every Afghan citizen.
HALO Trust is a humanitarian organization made famous when Princess Diana donned their trademark blue vest to walk in a minefield in Angola in 1997. The demining teams have been at work in Afghanistan since 1988. I was humbled in 2002 to put on the HALO trust blue vest and take a tour of several Afghan minefields north of Kabul along the roads to the Salang Pass. I can personally attest to the bravery of the deminers and the non-political nature of the organization. HALO prides itself on creating honorable jobs for citizens of the nations they work in. This is an inexcusable crime.
Terrorists and Militias Hard at Work
In the first half of 2021, amidst a deadly pandemic, terrorists and militias have been hard at work committing war crimes against civilians across Afghanistan. The supporters of these terrorist groups, Pakistan being one of the most likely suspects, have not been punished in any noticeable way for these continuous heinous activities.
In recent months school children, reporters, government office staff, traveling families, academics, religious leaders, and others have been murdered in attacks like the one that took the lives of these HALO trust employees. At the HALO camp masked gunmen started shooting the deminers and then according to witnesses they took people aside and stole their money and cell-phones. One of the terrorists was alleged to have said “Is any Hazara here among you?” This is in line with recent targeted attacks on the Hazara ethnic group in Afghanistan.
At the moment the so-called Islamic State terrorist branch operating along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border has claimed responsibility, and the Taliban have denied involvement. Many Afghans are quick to point out that the various terrorist groups often trade taking credit for attacks that are beneficial to them, while they deny involvement in attacks that might hurt their reputation.
Diplomats Respond to HALO Trust Attack
On twitter Zuhra Bahman of Afghanistan summed-up how HALO Trust is viewed by those who have benefited from their work. “Every time I walk on the beautiful mountains & fields of my country my hearts thanks you. I am heartbroken for your loss today.”
The UN and diplomats involved in Afghanistan, as usual, made statements of condemnation against the actions of these war criminals. Tomas Niklasson, the European Union’s special envoy to Afghanistan said that “those who attack humanitarian workers attack their own people and show a complete disregard for Islamic values.” The UN’s deputy special representative to Afghanistan, Ramiz Alakbarov, has called for “a full investigation to ensure that those responsible for any violations are held accountable and brought to justice,” he says.
These words all have a familiar tune for Afghans waiting for the nightmare of terrorism to leave their villages and cities. Now we wait to see if any nation or IGO will take any hard action to defund and end safe-haven support for the groups who so wantonly murder Afghan civilians.