Afghan deminers to ‘continue to save lives’ regardless of lethal assault

Baghlan, Afghanistan – Aqa Mohammad has not spoken a lot since he discovered that his father, Ghulam Mohammad, a mine clearance skilled within the Baghlan province of Afghanistan, was murdered by armed gunmen final week.

“My father was a brave man and accomplished many missions even in the most dangerous areas all over the country, but unfortunately we lost him,” the 20-year-old instructed Al Jazeera.

Ghulam Mohammad, together with 9 different staff of the HALO Trust, a British demining NGO, was killed within the June eight assault on their compound that additionally left 16 different staff injured. The assault was claimed by the ISIL (ISIS) group.

“It was around 10pm and I heard some noises outside, so I went to check on the vehicles. That is when I saw the gunmen … around a dozen of them stormed into the compound,” Jawid, one of many survivors of the assault, instructed Al Jazeera.

In Afghanistan, it isn’t unusual for a demining crew staying again at their workplace’s compound, to arrange nearer to the fields they’re clearing. More than 100 workers have been current on the time of the assault, stated Jawid, who, like many Afghans goes solely by one identify.

“First they gathered us in a room and collected everything we had, our phones, wallets and other valuables. They even took our office computers. Then they separated us in four or five rooms and demanded to know who among us were Hazaras and Shias,” stated Jawid, referring to the ethnic minority in Afghanistan, which has been dealing with persecution for his or her identification and largely Shia religion.

Jawid, one of many survivors of the assault [Ajmal Omari/Al Jazeera]

“We told them there are only Muslims here and we started to recite the kalima (the declaration of the Muslim faith). That is when they started shooting at us,” he stated, talking from his hospital mattress, the place he’s recovering from gunshot accidents to his leg.

Attack ethnically motivated

The HALO Trust stated the assault was ethnically motivated, and that the attackers have been searching for Hazara Shia Muslims as targets.

“Many of the young men who died last night were Hazara,” James Cowan, the CEO of HALO Trust, stated in a press release on June 9. “This is the most serious incident the HALO Trust has endured since it came into being in 1988.”

In a assertion, Human Rights Watch stated the assault was a “stark reminder of the dangers” humanitarian staff face whereas saving lives and livelihoods.

“As a co-founder of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Human Rights Watch joins them and expresses condolences to the victims and their families,” it stated, including that “eradication of landmines and other explosive weapons is a work in progress.”

Targeted assaults towards the Hazara neighborhood in Afghanistan and Pakistan have risen lately.

Last month, a sequence of explosions focused a lady’s college within the Dasht-e-Barchi space of Kabul that’s predominantly populated by Hazaras. At least 80 college students, principally women from the Hazara neighborhood, have been killed within the assault.

The Taliban denied its involvement within the assault. According to some HALO Trust members, the armed group even got here ahead to assist the victims.

However, native police stay sceptical.

“The Taliban control the area, Shaikh Jalal hills, where the incident occurred. They are involved in every crime that happens in that area,” Ahmad Jawid Basharat, spokesman at Baghlan police headquarters, instructed Al Jazeera.

Basharat stated that whereas there was some ISIL exercise within the province previously 12 months, the group was not robust sufficient to conduct an assault on this scale.

“The Taliban had promised they wouldn’t target the Afghan people who worked with international organisations, but their local fighters broke their word. So now they are claiming it is the ISIS,” he alleged.

Wounded folks obtain remedies at a hospital following the assault on folks working for the HALO Trust mine-clearing organisation [File: AFP]

Legacy of a long time of conflict

Afghanistan continues to endure from a latest spike in violence, a legacy of the a long time of wars within the impoverished nation.

Large swaths of the nation are nonetheless lined with landmines, a few of which have been planted a long time in the past throughout the conflict with the Soviet Union.

According to the United Nations Mines Action Service (UNMAS), greater than 40,000 Afghan civilians have been killed by landmines and explosive remnants of the wars.

In the primary quarter of 2021 alone, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) documented 70 such civilian casualties.

As deaths from landmines and explosives mount, the work of organisations such because the HALO Trust turns into crucial.

Marco Puntin, the nation director of the Emergency Centre for War Victims, has seen up shut the harm the landmines can do if they don’t seem to be cleared with the utmost urgency.

“It is crucial to allow deminers to do their work because it is evident from the number of mine-related injuries we see daily in our Kabul and Lashkargah (in Helmand province) centres,” Puntin stated.

“Demining work must be allowed to continue because mines are still affecting the people of this country.”

Puntin stated not less than 5 p.c of the accidents are suffered by kids, a lot of whom are dropped at the Italian-run conflict hospital in Kabul.

“For example, in Panjshir province, we still receive mine injuries, mainly children who, while playing, find pieces of old mines and devices that were placed decades ago,” he stated.

Aside from the circumstances of previous landmines, Panjshir is comparatively secure and undisturbed by the violence throughout the nation.

‘They died as heroes’

Despite experiences of newer mines being laid by the opponents, demining operations have had some success, too.

“Humanitarian mine action partners in Afghanistan have cleared more than 18.8 million items of ERW (explosive remnants of war), some 745,750 anti-personnel mines, and some 30,790 anti-vehicle mines since 1989,” a latest UNMAS report learn.

However, the report additionally added that nearly 4,000 recognized hazards stay, threatening about 1,530 communities.

Bamiyan province in central Afghanistan was among the many first provinces to be declared mine-free in 2019, due to the relentless work of deminers reminiscent of Ghulam Mohammad.

“My father and his colleagues who were martyred worked for decades making the country safer for all,” son Aqa Mohammad stated.

With the demise of his father, who was the household’s sole supplier, the duty of his seven siblings now falls on the youthful Mohammad, who desires to take his father’s place within the demining career.

“My father was very happy with the work he did. He talked about it as a service to not just the people of Afghanistan, but also its animals and nature. He would say that saving one life means saving lives of all the people in the world,” the younger man stated, choking with tears.

“They died as heroes and I want to follow in my father’s path.” he stated. “Armed groups need to stop targeting people like my father who are working to save lives.”

However, because the United States withdraws its troops forward of a September 11 deadline, NGOs and support staff, significantly these employed by worldwide companies, face elevated dangers from armed teams.

A UN report stated 11 support staff have been killed, 27 have been injured and 36 kidnapped between January and April this 12 months.

“Interference with humanitarian activities escalated in 2020, with a 140 percent increase in incidents compared to 2019,” UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric stated, including that the pattern continues to escalate in 2021.

NGOs say they are going to keep when troops go away

Emergency’s Puntin agreed that rising violence in Afghanistan was affecting their work.

“We are absolutely not affiliated to any side, and we work for all those affected by the conflict. But these kinds of attacks and the overall violence, even if it isn’t directed towards us, can affect us. Maybe not as often, but time to time, we are the collateral damage,” he stated.

Puntin stated there have been unintentional firings on the organisation’s ambulances or its amenities typically obtained caught within the crossfire.

“But no matter what happens, we always keep our facilities open because we know that our services are essential to the people,” he stated, including that Emergency “remains undeterred despite the recent tragedy”.

Louise Vaughan, the HALO Trust’s international media supervisor, instructed Al Jazeera that her organisation was additionally dedicated to staying in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of troops.

“HALO was founded here in 1988 and we have weathered every regime change there since. We were there long before the 9/11 attacks and have been through many ups and down since. We do not do exit strategies,” she stated.

The organisation, which has been backed by a number of members of the British royal household together with the late Princess Diana and Prince Harry, employs greater than 300 native workers in Afghanistan.

“We are there to save Afghan lives and livelihoods and will continue to do so,” Vaughan stated.

However, Jawid is just not reassured and says he’s unlikely to return to work quickly.

“They gathered us like sheep and fired on us. We could hear them shooting on our people in other rooms, too,” Jawid stated, the trauma nonetheless evident in his voice.

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