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‘Save the Children’ Afghan staff huddled in basement

IS battled security forces meters away from compound

KABUL: This file photo taken on January 21, 2018 shows Afghan men walking near the Intercontinental Hotel as smoke billows during a fight between gunmen and Afghan security forces in Kabul. — AFP

JALALABAD, Afghanistan: For nearly 10 hours Kamran Khan and his terrified Save the Children colleagues huddled in the basement of their compound, listening as Islamic State militants battled security forces meters away and praying they would survive. Dozens of men and women working for the British charity dashed to the basement-which Afghans often reinforce as a “safe room” against militant attacks-as the assault began Wednesday, a move which saved their lives.

“I was terrified,” Kamran, 30, told AFP yesterday, a day after the deadly attack that officials said killed five people and wounded another 26. Save the Children said yesterday that four employees had been killed, up from the three previously. “We were stuck in the safe room for almost 10 hours. Some of my colleagues fainted out of fear,” Kamran said.
The ordeal began at 9:00 am (0430 GMT), shortly after staff arrived. Heavily armed militants blew up a car outside the compound before using a rocket-propelled grenade to blast their way inside.

“I was hit with pieces of shrapnel in my head and my leg was also hit by shards of glass-my head and leg were bleeding,” Mohammad Amin, who had been leaving the compound with a colleague as the attack began, told AFP.
His workmate was killed. “I was terrified… I thought it was the last day of my life. It was chaos everyone was screaming and yelling for help,” said Amin, who escaped by climbing a ladder and hiding in a house next door.

“It was a horrific and gruesome attack. I still don’t remember how I survived.” During the ordeal one of the employees hiding in the basement sent a WhatsApp message to a friend begging him to “pray for us”.

“I can hear two attackers on the second floor. They are looking for us. Inform the security forces,” he wrote in the message seen by AFP. AFP could not verify his fate but all those trapped in the basement are believed to have survived. Even as the attack was underway and its staff still trapped inside the building, Save the Children announced it was suspending operations in Afghanistan-the latest international aid group to downgrade its presence in the war-torn country.

The group described the attack as “a senseless and malicious act of violence” yesterday. “Incidents like this have a direct impact on the children and communities we work to protect and yesterday programs across the country were brought to a halt,” a spokesman said. “Our humanitarian staff remain dedicated to resuming operations, and have already taken first steps to do so, carrying out critical safety and security assessments across the areas we work.”

Afghanistan recorded the second highest number of attacks against aid workers worldwide in 2016, according to UK-based research group Humanitarian Outcomes. Only South Sudan was more dangerous. “It was a tragic day, we lost some of our dear colleagues,” said Kamran. “I still cannot believe I survived.” – AFP

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