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International Assistance Mission slayings: part of Taliban war strategy

The Taliban in Afghanistan are claiming responsibility for the attack on an International Assistance Mission medical team, in which 10 people died. The attack is one of the deadliest for American aid workers since the Afghanistan war began.

By Staff writer / August 7, 2010

An Afghan man rides his bicycle past the International Assistance Mission in Kabul on Saturday. Eight foreign medical workers, including six Americans, were killed by gunmen in Afghanistan's remote northeast, police and officials said on Saturday, with the attack claimed by the Taliban.

Omar Sobhani/Reuters

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The execution-style killings of 10 people working for a Christian medical team in a remote region of northern Afghanistan fit into Taliban insurgents' stated shift in tactics: Target Western civilians, especially Christians, as "foreign invaders."

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The Taliban took credit for one of the deadliest attacks yet on aid workers in Afghanistan, saying the Christian charity workers were proselytizing to poor villagers – a charge that the International Assistance Mission, which dispatched the team, denies.

The bodies of six Americans, a Briton, a German, and two Afghan interpreters were discovered Friday in a forested part of Badakhshan Province in remote northern Afghanistan – until now considered a relatively peaceful region known mostly to adventure travelers. The only person in the party not killed was a local translator who offered proof he was a Muslim by quoting the Koran, according to the Associated Press.

The attack represents the largest single toll of American civilian deaths in Afghanistan since December, when a suicide bomber killed seven members of a CIA team. It also points to the operational viability of Taliban insurgents' stated intent to target foreign aid workers as combatants.

"There has been a rise in politically motivated attacks" against aid workers, according to a 2008 roundup of aid worker deaths by Change.org, a Web consortium of social justice groups. "Many rebel and insurgent groups no longer see humanitarian workers as neutral or independent." After killing four aid workers in 2008, the Taliban issued a statement saying their group was working for "foreign invader forces," according to Change.org.

The International Assistance Mission has operated under kings, warlords, and the Taliban since it began its work in Afghanistan in 1966, making it the longest-serving nongovernmental organization in the country. "This tragedy negatively impacts our ability to continue serving the Afghan people as IAM has been doing since 1966," the organization wrote on its website. "We hope it will not stop our work that benefits over a quarter of a million Afghans each year."

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