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Afghan mine-clearing workers killed in gun attack

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A security personnel stands next to a damaged vehicle at the site of an explosion in Kabul on June 3, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

Another day of bloodshed in Afghanistan, with gunmen targeting workers at a mine-clearing compound in the country's north. Kabul is blaming the Taliban for the attack, but the group denies any involvement.

The attack occurred at around 10 p.m. Tuesday, when dozens of people, working for the HALO Trust mine-clearing organization, were having some rest after a day spent removing ordnance from nearby minefields in Baghlan province.

The UK-based organization — the largest de-mining group in Afghanistan — said "an unknown armed group" killed 10 staff and wounded 16 others.

It said, “Around 110 men, from local communities in northern Afghanistan, were in the camp."

According to officials, the attackers were wearing masks.

Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Tareq Arian said, "The Taliban entered a compound of a mine-clearing agency ... and started shooting everyone.”

Provincial police spokesman Jawed Basharat also said that Taliban militants “brought them [workers] into one room and opened fire on them.”

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, however, denied the militants were involved in the attack.

"We condemn attacks on the defenseless & view it as brutality," he said on Twitter. "We have normal relations with NGOs, our Mujahidin will never carry out such brutal acts."

Baghlan province has seen fierce fighting in recent months, with near-daily battles between the Taliban and government forces in several districts.

Violence has surged across Afghanistan since the United States missed a withdrawal deadline it had agreed with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, last year.

All foreign troops were supposed to have been withdrawn by May 1, but US President Joe Biden last month pushed that date back to September 11. The decision caused intra-Afghan peace talks — between the Taliban and Kabul — to be suspended.

The Taliban warned that the passing of the May 1 deadline for a complete withdrawal “opened the way for” the militants to take every counteraction they deemed appropriate against foreign forces in the country.

Fighting is now raging in 26 of the 34 provinces of Afghanistan.

The US, along with its NATO allies, attacked Afghanistan in 2001, claiming that the Taliban were harboring al-Qaeda. The invasion removed a Taliban regime from power but prompted widespread militancy and insecurity across the Asian country. The war has taken countless lives, including of Afghan civilians.

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