The have killed at least five people in a suicide attack on the offices of a US aid group in the heart of the Afghan capital, claiming it targeted Counterpart International because it promoted women “mixing” with men.
Coming as US negotiators try to reach a peace deal with the Taliban, the attack in Kabul is likely to fuel the concerns of critics who say the militant group cannot be trusted to protect women’s rights and other freedoms, whatever they may pledge at the negotiating table.
It began with a suicide blast at the entrance to ’s Afghanistan headquarters in the centre of Kabul, near the offices of the attorney general.
Five gunmen then raced inside the compound and battled special forces soldiers for more than six hours. About 200 people were evacuated from two buildings as the fighting raged.
Four of the dead were civilians and one was a policeman; 24 others were injured. Counterpart, which is based in the US and has operated in Afghanistan since 2005, and was “working as quickly as possible to account for our staff. Their safety and security is our primary concern.”
It was not immediately clear if any of the dead were employees of the organisation, which works with civil society in , including supporting women’s rights and young Afghans.
A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said the group had been targeted because it carried out “harmful western activities” in Afghanistan, and one of its programmes was “promoting open inter-mixing between men and women”.
When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, before the US-led campaign to topple them in 2001, they barred women from education and most work, and forced them to wear the burqa.
When the group announced its annual “spring offensive” this year, it promised to be careful of civilians. The Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, the US ambassador and the UN condemned the attack.
“Today’s attack particularly deplorable, hitting civilians helping Afghans & taking place during Ramadan,” the .
The sixth round of peace talks between the Taliban and the US is under way in Qatar. Donald Trump is keen to wrap up a war that has lasted more than 17 years, costing the US billions of dollars.
Afghan women have warned they are being excluded from the process, putting their hard-won achievements of the last two decades at risk and jeopardising the foundations of any future deal.