In northern Afghanistan, six Red Cross workers were killed and two others were missing on Wednesday after an attack.  The Taliban quickly denied any involvement in the attack.  The governor of Jowzjan Province, Lutfullah Azizi, blamed affiliates of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, for the attack.

Mr. Azizi said that the Red Cross had begun a mission to distribute livestock material in the Qush Tepah area of Jowzjan Province, where the attack happened, but that its work was suspended by recent avalanches. When workers went to resume giving out aid, they were targeted.

“They were a team of eight people in three vehicles, including three drivers and five staff,” Mr. Azizi said. “Islamic State attacked the convoy, killed the three drivers and three staff members on the spot and took two staff members with them.”

The plan was for the Red Cross staff to help distribute the 1,000 tons of feed, which is critical for farmers because there is nowhere for animals to graze in the winter months.  Before the vehicles got to the distribution point, they were ambushed by armed men. The panic button sent an alert to Red Cross offices in Kabul, but efforts to reach the staffers by satellite phone and other means failed. “We couldn’t get hold of them,” says Thomas Glass, head of communications for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Afghanistan.  The Red Cross is “desperately” searching for the two missing field staff members.

Glass stated that the Red Cross has 30 years of continuous presence in Afghanistan and they are  well-known and respected for their work within the communities they serve.  The vehicles are clearly marked so the ambush has all the signs of a deliberate attack.  Red Cross workers being attacked in Afghanistan is nothing new but the loss of 6 lives at one time seems like another level of violence.

In Afghanistan, the Red Cross helps with many efforts for the communities such as supporting health care, anti-poverty work and sanitation efforts. The Red Cross issued a statement that activities are suspended until Tuesday, possibly longer.  Certain activities will continue, such as the treatment of patients at medical facilities will continue but any movement in the field, including the transfer of war-wounded to hospitals, has been put on hold.

Qush Tepah is about 37 miles from the provincial capital and is rife with militant groups, including five Islamic State factions with an estimated 200 fighters.  A spokesman for the northern police zone said there were about 600 foreign fighters in five Northern provinces.

In recent weeks, officials in northern Afghanistan had expressed concern about an increase in foreign fighters there, many of them suspected of affiliation with the Islamic State. Amnesty International condemned the attack and noted that violence has intensified recently in Afghanistan.  The work of humanitarian workers and journalists has become increasingly dangerous as there has been an increase of deliberate attacks on aid workers and journalists.