2010 Badakhshan massacre
|2010 Badakhshan massacre|
Badakhshan Province, Afghanistan
|Location||Badakhshan Province, Afghanistan|
|Date||6 August 2010|
On 5 August 2010, ten members of International Assistance Mission Nuristan Eye Camp team were killed in Kuran wa Munjan District of Badakhshan Province in Afghanistan. The team was attacked as it was returning from Nuristan to Kabul. One team member was spared, the rest of the team were killed immediately. Those killed were six Americans, two Afghans, one Briton and one German.
The identity of the attackers is unknown. When news of the killings broke, both Hizb-e Islami and the Taliban initially claimed responsibility for the attack, accusing the doctors of proselytism and spying. These claims were later refuted by Taliban leaders in Nuristan and Badakhshan, who stated that they had confirmed the dead were bona-fide aid workers, condemned the killings as murder, and offered their condolences to the families of those killed.
The attack was the deadliest strike against foreign aid workers in the Afghanistan war. The killings underscored the suspicion Christian-affiliated groups face from some Afghans and government opponents and the wider risks faced by aid workers in the country.
Background and context
Badakhshan province borders Tajikistan and is inhabited by mostly Tajik people. It is one of the few provinces in Afghanistan which was not controlled by the Taliban when it was in power. After coming under increasing pressure by NATO forces in southern Afghanistan the Taliban have become active in areas like Badakhshan Province which were previously calm. In addition they have started using women and children as suicide bombers and targeted tribal elders, things they formerly considered taboo. Foreign aid workers have been attacked in the past but these attacks have been relatively infrequent and Taliban has allowed some aid workers in the areas they controlled. Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission stated that civilian deaths were up five percent in 2010 and Taliban was responsible for 68% of the 1325 deaths till 8 August 2010 and NATO was responsible for 28%. International Assistance Mission is a Christian organization that has worked in Afghanistan since 1966. They have denied proselytizing, as for non-Muslims it is against the law of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. According to critics propagandists of the Taliban insurgency portray their drive for power as a defense of Islam. The victims of the massacre had indeed been sponsored by a Christian charity, but that organization worked in Afghanistan since 1966, under a monarchy, a communist regime, warlords, and under the Taliban; its aid workers were said to understand the Afghan customs and sensibilities and have scrupulously obeyed prohibitions against proselytizing. None of the Christian non-profit's workers had ever been killed while on duty with the organisation.
The publicity on the massacre and its aftermath coincided with the publication of the 2010 Mid-Year Report on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), in which worries were expressed about the rising number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan and that was directly followed by an advice of human rights organisation Amnesty International that the Taliban should be prosecuted for war crimes. According to the UNAMA report, the tactics of the Taliban and other Anti-Government Elements (AGEs) were behind a 31 per cent increase in conflict-related civilian casualties in the first six months of 2010 compared with the same period in 2009. Casualties attributed to Pro-Government Forces (PGF) fell 30 per cent during the same period, driven by a 64 per cent decline in deaths and injuries caused by aerial attacks. Many Afghans blame the international forces for the civilian deaths, "stirring up greater violence by fomenting new recruits for the Taliban, for arming militias in the countryside, and for propping up warlords and corrupt Afghan officials".
The team, which included a doctor, a dentist and an optometrist, was returning to Kabul after providing eye care to villagers in Parun valley in Nuristan Province, south of Badakhshan Province in Northeast Afghanistan. They had been running an eye camp in Nuristan, for which they had received permission from the Afghan government. They had chosen to travel through a forest in Badakhshan as this was considered a safer route back to Kabul. The team was attacked when they stopped after fording a river. They were killed immediately, without any negotiation. One Afghan driver was spared after he started chanting verses from the Qur'an. When the bodies were recovered, the victims appeared to have been robbed. The two Afghans killed worked as a watchman and a cook. The bodies of the victims were flown back to Kabul on 8 August 2010. The foreigners killed were all unpaid volunteers.
Cheryl Beckett (32) was an aid worker and translator, from Knoxville, Tennessee, United States, and an Indiana Wesleyan University graduate; she had been in Afghanistan for six years and specialized in nutritional gardening and mother-child health.
Grams had been working with the group for many years and had made multiple trips to Afghanistan and Nepal providing dental care to poor children. He had previously been in private practice but gave this up to work with the poor.
Glen D. Lapp
Lapp was a medical volunteer with the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and the International Assistance Mission (IAM) from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He had trained as a nurse, but worked as the manager of the International Assistance Mission's provincial Ophthalmology program, as well as an executive assistant of the IAM in Afghanistan. (The International Assistance Mission is a partner with the Mennonite Central Committee.) Lapp had worked for the IAM in Afghanistan for two years. An alumnus of Johns Hopkins University and Eastern Mennonite University, Lapp had previously worked as a nurse in New York City, Lancaster, Pennsylvania and Supai, Arizona. Additionally, Lapp assisted the MCC in the weeks following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Lapp also worked as a realtor and attended the Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster, where news of his death was first announced on 8 August 2010.
Tom Little (62) was an optometrist from Delmar, New York, United States, and the team leader.
He had worked in Afghanistan for more than three decades and spoke Dari fluently. He moved to Afghanistan in the late seventies and raised his three daughters there. Dr Tom Little was posthumously awarded the 2010 International Optometrist of the Year by the World Council of Optometrists, and the 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Dan Terry (63) was from Wisconsin, United States, who served as liaison with local communities, aid organizations, and the government; he had performed relief work in Afghanistan since 1971, following in his father's footsteps who had worked for IAM as the Executive Director.
Karen Woo (36) was a general surgeon from Stevenage, Hertfordshire, UK. Woo was the daughter of a Chinese father and English mother. By her late teens, she had become a professional dancer and subsequently performed stunts as a wing-walker for a flying circus. After returning to university, she became a surgeon and trained at St Mary's Hospital, London. She left a lucrative position with Bupa (a healthcare organisation) in England to work with the poor people of Afghanistan. Woo was engaged to be married in two weeks. Afghanistan has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world and her work involved helping pregnant women. Her family stated that Woo "although very spiritual, she did not really believe in organised religion" and that her motivations were purely humanitarian.
The only two survivors of the eye camp team were Said Yasin and Safiullah, both Afghan. Said Yasin had left the team several days earlier and returned to Kabul by another route, whereas Safiullah was spared after reciting verses from the Koran.
The local officials initially stated that the motive was robbery, but after interviewing witnesses they changed their view and said that Taliban was responsible. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahaden claimed responsibility for the attacks and accused the victims of being "American spies" and "proselytizing Christianity". Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid stated that the victims had in their possession Bibles which had been translated into the local language Dari. However, also another group was mentioned, the Hizb-i-Islami (HIA) of warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Earlier claims of the Taliban were refuted by Qari Malang, the representative of the Western Nuristan Taliban. He said that commanders from Nuristan had not carried out the killings and they had launched an investigation to find out who had. "We shall inform you of the results when it is concluded. We regret these killings and strongly assert that this is not the work of the Taliban who will never do harm to genuine aid workers… as soon as we manage to apprehend those responsible for this act, we shall subject them to whatever punishment our laws prescribe." Dirk Frans, executive director of the International Assistance Mission (IAM) in Kabul, doubted whether the local Taliban were behind the attack, in contrast to a statement by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton which directly blamed the Taliban for what she described as a "despicable act of wanton violence.". In her reaction on 8 August 2010, she stated: "We condemn in the strongest possible terms this senseless act. We also condemn the Taliban’s transparent attempt to justify the unjustifiable by making false accusations about their activities in Afghanistan. Terror has no religion (...), they have shown us yet another example of the lengths to which they will go to advance their twisted ideology." 
In the weeks following the attack a senior Taliban leader, Qari Malang (the representative of the Western Nuristan Taliban) stated "We have checked the facts regarding these foreigners, and our people in the area have conﬁrmed that they were bona ﬁde aid workers and had been providing assistance to the population. Furthermore, we have learnt that among the killed foreigners, was Dan Terry, who had a long history of helping our people, including in Kunar and Laghman provinces and that he had previously provided welfare assistance to the families of those civilians martyred in bombardments… We pass on our condolences to the families of those killed."
After the massacre International Assistance Mission stated that they had no plans to leave Afghanistan. US Federal Bureau of Investigation has opened an investigation into the attacks according a spokesman from US embassy.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who emphasized that "health workers must have access to treat those in need and must be able to do so without fear." His Special Representative Staffan de Mistura said "The United Nations condemns this serious crime and apparent cold-blooded execution."
Australian foreign minister Stephen Smith issued a statement condemning the attack and offered condolences to the victims' families. British foreign secretary William Hague condemned the attack and stated "This is a deplorable and cowardly act which is against the interests of the people of Afghanistan who depended on the services she [Karen Woo] was bravely helping to provide." United States Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton condemned the killings, calling them "despicable acts of wanton violence." (see above) Karl Eikenberry, the current United States Ambassador to Afghanistan, speaking to Afghan people said, "Their murder demonstrates the absolute disregard that terrorist-inspired Taliban and other insurgents have for your health, have for your security and have for your opportunity, They don't care about your future. They only care about themselves and their own ideology." US special envoy Richard Holbrooke stated the killers do not represent average Afghans, most of whom were shocked by these killings.
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