KABUL – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has “strongly” condemned a deadly Taliban attack on the offices of an international aid group in Kabul that has killed at least nine people.
Pompeo said the targeted group, Counterpart International, runs programs encouraging peaceful dialogue and opportunities for women, among other initiatives.
“This violent attack is a senseless assault on the noble values that the organizations like Counterpart support, such as service to others, education, and inclusion," Pompeo said in a statement issued on May 9.
Afghan officials say five police officers, one security guard, and three civilians were killed in the May 8 attack on Counterpart International, a nonprofit organization that works together with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Ann Hudock, Counterpart's president and CEO, said attackers had targeted "innocent civilians, development professionals who dedicate their lives to improving the lives of Afghanistan's most vulnerable, including women, youth, and the disabled."
Interior Ministry spokesman Nusrat Rahimi told RFE/RL the assault began at 11:40 a.m. local time with a large explosion at the Counterpart International office, resulting in a standoff with Afghan security forces.
Five gunmen then stormed the compound. Afghan security forces then launched an hours-long clearance operation, the Interior Ministry said.
It said that the siege ended after all attackers were killed.
About two dozen people also were said to be injured in the violence, while about 200 people were evacuated from the area.
A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahid, said the aid group was targeted because it was involved in what he described as “harmful Western activities” inside Afghanistan and the "intermixing" of men and women.
The attack came as Afghanistan observes the Islamic holy month of Ramadan and amid a new round of talks between the United States and the Taliban in Qatar, which aim to bring an end to the almost 18-year war in Afghanistan.
A Taliban official said on May 9 that "some progress" had been made in the talks on a draft agreement for when foreign troops might withdraw.
There was no immediate reaction from the United States.
Counterpart International has operated in Afghanistan since 2005, running civic engagement projects that support women and other marginalized groups across the country.
"We are incredibly saddened by this attack and are working as quickly as possible to account for our staff," the group said in a statement.
John Bass, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, described the attack as "senseless violence," saying that the targeted organization “helps local communities, trains journalists, and supports the Afghan people.”
“Today’s attack particularly deplorable, hitting civilians helping Afghans & taking place during Ramadan,” the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a tweet.