Los Angeles Times, October 20, 2008
Taliban gunmen kill Western aid worker on Kabul street
The brazen attack in broad daylight against a woman who works for a Christian aid group sends a chill through foreigners living in Kabul. In northern Afghanistan, a suicide bomber kills seven people.
Gayle Williams worked for a Christian organization called SERVE
KABUL, Afghanistan -- Taliban gunmen on a motorbike shot and killed a Western woman aid worker in the Afghan capital today, fueling a sense that insurgents are increasingly encroaching on the country's seat of government.
A suicide bomber also killed two Western soldiers and five children in the north of Afghanistan, where violence is relatively rare. NATO did not release the nationalities of the troops killed in the attack in Kunduz, but provincial officials identified them as Germans.
Taken together, the two attacks illustrate a recent pattern of militant attacks in areas where strikes are unusual. Western military officials consider this an attempt to make the insurgency appear stronger and better entrenched, with a geographic spread beyond its main bases in the country's volatile south and east.
Attacks on humanitarian groups across Afghanistan have risen dramatically this year, and some of the assaults -- including the killings of three foreign female aid workers and their driver in August -- have taken place not far from Kabul.
But today's execution-style street killing of a worker for a British-based Christian charity was notable for its brazenness.
The fact that the assault took place within the city limits, and in broad daylight, sent chills through the expatriate community in Kabul, where the staffs of most international organizations in Afghanistan live and work in heavily fortified compounds.
Security at most foreign installations in Kabul, already extremely high, was tightened as word of the killing spread.
The slain woman, who held British and South African citizenship, worked for a Christian organization called SERVE, which says on its website that its main mission is aiding refugees and the handicapped. The group identified her as Gayle Williams, and said she was 34.
The Taliban movement claimed responsibility for the killing, accusing the woman's organization of trying to spread Christianity. Attempting to convert Muslims is a crime in Afghanistan.
SERVE, whose full name is Serving Emergency Work and Vocational Enterprises, says that although it is a Christian charity, its mission in Afghanistan is a strictly humanitarian one.
The woman was walking alone in western Kabul at about 8 a.m., apparently on her way to her office, when she was shot at least twice, in the leg and the torso, by assailants who then sped away on a motorbike, Afghan authorities said.
Growing insecurity in the area surrounding Kabul has been a source of major concern to Western military officials.
Although there have been some serious attacks in the capital in recent months, including a suicide attack on a luxury hotel, a massive car bombing at the Indian Embassy and an assassination attempt against President Hamid Karzai, Kabul has been considered fairly secure.
Underscoring Western military leaders' desire to counter any impression of a capital under siege, the NATO-led force said today its troops had attacked militant strongholds in Wardak province, about 40 miles west of the capital. More than 20 insurgents were killed in fighting that began Thursday, the NATO-led force said in a statement.
Fighting has also been centered in recent days around Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province. Helmand is focal point of Afghanistan's lucrative drug trade, which helps bankroll the insurgency.
Provincial officials said Western and Afghan forces had killed nearly three dozen Taliban fighters over the weekend in an area to the south of Lashkar Gah. On two occasions this month, insurgents had massed around the town in an apparent attempt to storm it, but were beaten back.
As the Helmand fighting intensified, NATO acknowledged today that some civilians were killed last week in a Western airstrike in the province's Nad Ali district. Local officials had reported that at least 17 civilians died in the raid, which came in the midst of a clash between Taliban fighters and Western and Afghan troops.
NATO's International Security Assistance Force did not provide a specific casualty figure, but said today it had concluded that some civilians were present in a compound that the militants used as a staging ground for an ambush. At the time of the strike, it was believed that no noncombatants were inside, the statement said.
Civilian deaths and injuries have been a major source of friction between Western forces and the Afghan government. Western military officials say strict measures are in place to try to avoid killing or hurting noncombatants, but Afghan officials and human rights groups have demanded that the foreign troops exercise greater caution.
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