KABUL, Afghanistan – A Nobel Prize-winning relief agency halted its long-established operations in Afghanistan on Thursday after five staff members were killed in the deadliest attack on foreign aid workers since the fall of the Taliban.
Wednesday’s assault in northwestern Badghis province on workers with Medecins Sans Frontieres raised fears that insurgents already disrupting development efforts in Afghanistan’s south and east are now targeting projects in the north.
Attackers using rifles and grenades shredded a four-wheel-drive vehicle painted with the MSF red logo, killing all five people inside: a Norwegian doctor, a Dutch logistician, a Belgian project coordinator, an Afghan driver and an Afghan translator.
The attackers disconnected the vehicle’s radio but stole nothing.
“For the time being, our activities will be suspended nationwide,” MSF spokeswoman Vicky Hawkins said. “In the coming weeks we will analyze this event in-depth, but for the moment our priority is to take care of those most affected by this tragedy.”
The agency said it was pulling all foreign workers back to Kabul, leaving local staff in place for emergency duties. Spokesman Bas Tielens in Amsterdam, Netherlands, would not say whether the group might pull out of some areas altogether.
MSF has been in Afghanistan since 1979, providing basic health care and support to hospitals through 80 expatriates and 1,400 local people. The organization, also known as Doctors Without Borders, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999.
A purported Taliban spokesman, Mullah Abdul Hakim Latifi, claimed responsibility for the attack and threatened more against international aid workers “working for the policy of America.”
If the claim is legitimate, it would signal a worrying escalation in an insurgency that has claimed hundreds of lives this year despite the deployment of 9,000 extra U.S. forces in recent months. There now are about 20,000 American soldiers in the country.