KABUL, Afghanistan -- In the second attack on a humanitarian organization in Afghanistan in less than a week, insurgents in Jalalabad struck the compound of the International Committee of the Red Cross on Wednesday, killing a security guard and wounding a member of the staff, police said.
The attack occurred about 5:30 p.m. when two insurgents wearing explosive vests approached the compound, said Mohammad Sharif Amin, police chief of eastern Nangarhar province, where Jalalabad is located. One opened fired and killed a guard working for the Red Cross and then the assailants entered the compound.
A gun battle ensued between the attackers, who had heavy weapons and grenades, and Afghan security forces, Amin said. During the fight, the insurgents wounded a Red Cross worker. Part of the building also caught fire during the firefight. The attack lasted about two hours, ending with the area secured and both attackers killed when they detonated their vests.
Security forces rescued six international staff members with the Red Cross, Amin added, transferring them to the United Nations compound in Jalalabad.
The humanitarian group confirmed on its Twitter account that an “incident” took place at its office in Jalalabad without elaborating. No one claimed immediate responsibility for the assault.
On Friday militants attacked the Kabul headquarters of the International Organization for Migration, leading to a firefight lasting several hours. The Taliban claimed responsibility for that strike.
Analysts said it wasn’t immediately clear why insurgents would attack the Red Cross, which has a reputation for working with insurgents including the Taliban as part of its bid to remain as neutral as possible in any conflict.
The organization reportedly has negotiated with the Taliban in the past to carry out polio vaccination campaigns and otherwise gain access to Taliban-controlled area. In 2010 the Red Cross said it provided first aid training to the Taliban in line with its broader mandate to give equal treatment to both armies and armed opposition groups fighting around the world.
In June 2012 the Taliban praised the Red Cross as a group that works for common Afghans, not the Afghan government or international forces, adding in a statement that it provided valuable help during the fighting against the Soviet invasion in the late 1980s.
Wednesday’s attack was reportedly the first aimed at Red Cross facilities in Afghanistan since it started operating in the country in 1987, although a water engineer was shot dead in 2003. The group’s $90-million operation is its largest in any nation, with more than 1,500 staff members working on a range of projects such as improving water sanitation, protecting detainees, supporting animal husbandry programs and amputee rehabilitation.
The attack comes amid concern over how Afghan security forces will handle a resurgent insurgency as foreign combat troops prepare to depart by the end of 2014.
Special correspondent Baktash reported from Kabul and Times staff writer Magnier from New Delhi.