Afghanistan

British aid worker killed as Afghan violence spreads

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By Jonathon Burch

KABUL, Oct 20 (Reuters) - Two Taliban gunmen killed a British woman aid worker in the Afghan capital on Monday, accusing her of spreading Christian propaganda, in an attack that could help further restrict humanitarian activities in Afghanistan. Taliban insurgents have increasingly targeted aid workers this year in their campaign to spread an atmosphere of fear and undermine claims by the Afghan government and its Western backers that they are bringing security to the war-ravaged nation.

"She was walking to work this morning. There were two people on a motorcycle. They got off the motorcycle and shot her and then went away on the motorcycle. She was dead pretty soon afterwards," said Mark Lyth, the board chairman of SERVE Afghanistan, the aid agency which employed the woman.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. "We killed her for spreading Christian propaganda," Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the militant group, told Reuters by telephone.

SERVE Afghanistan is a British-based Christian aid organisation focusing on community development and education and training for people with disabilities.

"WAVERING ALLIANCE"

Though NATO insists increased Taliban attacks this year bely its success in weakening the Islamist rebels, targeted Taliban assassinations, suicide and roadside bombs have increased the sense of personal insecurity among Afghans and foreigners alike.

A suicide bomber hit a convoy of German troops in the relatively peaceful north of Afghanistan on Monday, killing five children and two German soldiers, a senior police official said.

Keeping Berlin's 3,300 troops in Afghanistan is already unpopular in Germany and the deaths will likely only increase calls for them to be withdrawn and put further strain on the alliance, which is struggling to contain the Taliban insurgency.

Thirty German soldiers have now died in Afghanistan.

The relentless violence has led Washington to commission a strategic review of its military campaign, which suffers from a plethora of different rules of engagement and restrictions on operations among the 41 nations with troops in Afghanistan.

NATO members are now wavering in their political commitment to Afghanistan, a top alliance commander said, describing the seven-year campaign against the Taliban as disjointed.

"We are demonstrating a political will that is in my judgment sometimes wavering," U.S. General John Craddock, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe, said in a speech to policymakers and defence analysts in London.

"It's this wavering political will that impedes operational progress and brings into question the relevance of the alliance here in the 21st century," he said.

Dissatisfaction with the presence of foreign troops and widespread government corruption, coupled with Taliban intimidation, has led to an extension of insurgent influence closer to Kabul and to the hitherto largely peaceful north.

There were more than 120 attacks on aid programmes in the first seven months of this year, the United Nations says, killing 30 aid workers. Afghanistan is one of the very poorest countries in the world, with an average life expectancy of just 44 years.

"As the conflict has spread to previously peaceful areas, more aid workers have been caught up in the conflict," said a senior aid worker in Kabul.

"This is not going to lead to aid agencies withdrawing from Afghanistan. What happens is that aid agencies find ways of dealing with insecure environments," he said. "Agencies may adopt a lower profile."

Three female aid workers and their Afghan driver were killed in an ambush outside Kabul in August, the bloodiest single attack on foreign humanitarian workers in Afghanistan in recent years.

DAILY CASUALTIES

In the southern ethnic Pashtun heartlands, the dozens of Taliban casualties inflicted almost daily by Afghan and NATO troops have done little to diminish the insurgency.

Afghan and NATO-led troops killed 34 Taliban insurgents in two days of fighting near the capital of the southern province of Helmand, the provincial governor's spokesman said on Monday.

But undermining any success in the operation to fight off the rare attack on the provincial capital, NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) admitted it may have killed a number of civilians in an air strike in Helmand on Thursday.

ISAF troops, it said, were ambushed from a compound. With no evidence of civilians in the compound, it said an air strike was called in after sustained fighting. Provincial officials said last week 17 civilians were killed in the attack in the Naad Ali district, but ISAF gave no number.

"The air strike accurately struck the enemy target. It now appears that some civilians may have been killed as a result of that assault. We regret and are deeply saddened by the loss of civilian life," ISAF said.

(Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by Paul Tait)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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