International

U.S, European Docs Killed In Afghanistan

Director of The International Assistance

Director of The International Assistance Mission, Dirk Frans, during a media interview in Kabul on the killings of his group's medical aid volunteers. MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP hide caption

itoggle caption MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP
Dr. Karen Woo

Dr. Karen Woo of London, a surgeon, was among the dead. Anonymous/AP Photo/Bridge, Afghanistan hide caption

itoggle caption Anonymous/AP Photo/Bridge, Afghanistan

U.S. and European doctors, members of a humanitarian team providing medical care in remote villages, were among ten people killed in northern Afghanistan in an ambush for which the Taliban has claimed credit.

The physicians and optometrist were part of the International Assistance Mission team that included six Americans, one German, one Briton and two Afghan translators. They had been traveling for weeks by foot over difficult terrain in northern Afghanistan to provide care.

From an IAM news release:

We have been informed that 10 people, both foreign and Afghan, were murdered in Badakhshan. It is likely that they are members of the International Assistance Mission (IAM) eye camp team. The team had been in Nuristan at the invitation of communities there. After having completed their medical work the team was returning to Kabul.

At this stage we do not have many details but our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of those who are presumed killed. If these reports are confirmed we object to this senseless killing of people who have done nothing but serve the poor. Some of the foreigners have worked alongside the Afghan people for decades.

This tragedy negatively impacts our ability to continue serving the Afghan people as IAM has been doing since 1966. We hope it will not stop our work that benefits over a quarter of a million Afghans each year.

Diek Frans, IAM's director, provided identities of the team's members to journalists.

The Associated Press reports the following:

Among the dead was team leader Tom Little, an optometrist from Delmar, New York, who has been working in Afghanistan for more than 30 years, Frans said. Another relief organization, Bridge Afghanistan, said on its website that the group included one of its members, Dr. Karen Woo of London.

Little, who oversaw eye hospitals in Kabul and two other major cities as well as small clinics in three smaller towns, had been expelled by the Taliban government in August 2001 after the arrest of eight Christian aid workers - two Americans and six Germans -for allegedly trying to convert Afghans to Christianity.

He returned to live in Afghanistan after the Taliban government was toppled in November 2001 by U.S.-backed forces.

Frans said he lost contact with Little on Wednesday. On Friday, a third Afghan member of the team, who survived the attack, called to report the killings. A fourth Afghan member of the team was not killed because he took a different route home because he had family in Jalalabad, Frans said.

The Taliban reportedly claimed credit for the killings by sending text messages to that effect to Afghan journalists.

But some have their doubts about that claim. The area where the team was traveling, the Kuran wa Munjan district in Badakhshan Province, is extremely poor and violent. Opium poppy production for the heroin trade has been one of the only ways for people to make money there and much of the violence is tied to criminality not politics or the insurgency.

According to western reports, the area has become more violent in recent years. So there are plenty of other threats there other than the Taliban.

Indeed, from the AP report, it sounds like they could have just as easily been attacked by a criminal gang:

Gen. Agha Noor Kemtuz, police chief in Badakhshan province, said the victims, who had been shot, were found Friday next to three bullet-riddled four-wheel drive vehicles in Kuran Wa Munjan district.

He said villagers had warned the team that the area was dangerous, but the foreigners said they were doctors and weren't afraid. He said local police said about 10 gunmen robbed them and killed them one by one.

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