Taliban deny attacking Red Cross in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Taliban on Friday denied any role in this week’s attack on an International Committee of the Red Cross compound in eastern Afghanistan, saying they had previously cooperated with the aid agency and did not support targeting it.

The rare public denial by the insurgents deepened the mystery of who was behind the assault Wednesday that began when a suicide bomber detonated at the compound’s gate and another gunman entered the compound. An Afghan guard was killed in the explosion, and seven international staff inside the compound were later rescued by police.

Afghan Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said Friday that the Taliban had previously given their blessing to the ICRC to conduct polio vaccinations in areas they control and would never attack an independent aid group.

“We are not involved, and we are not supporting this kind of attack,” he said in a terse emailed statement.

The Taliban claim they never target civilians or humanitarian aid groups, but they have occasionally attacked United Nations guest houses or those of groups they say are working with U.S. and Afghan spy agencies.

A week previously, the Taliban quickly claimed responsibility for an attack on the compound of another aid group, the International Organization for Migration, with the insurgents saying they were targeting trainers linked to the CIA. Three Afghans died in that assault, which started with a car bomb and led to an eight-hour battle in the heart of Kabul. Police killed all the gunmen and rescued 10 foreign aid workers.

The Red Cross has rarely been hit in the more than 12 years since the Afghan war began in late 2001. Considered one of the most respected agencies in the country, it has good relations with all parties to the conflict, including the Taliban.

Afghanistan is the site of one of the Red Cross’s biggest operations worldwide, with some 1,800 staff working in 17 locations, the organization says.

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