Gunmen attacked the offices of the NGO Save the Children in the Afghan city of Jalalabad on Wednesday, leading to a battle with security forces that has left at least two people dead and many others wounded. Our Observer Malala lives in Jalalabad and told us what she saw.
The attackers blew up a car in front of Save the Children’s offices before using a rocket-propelled grenade to storm the compound. The Islamic State (IS) group has claimed responsibility for the attack. Jalalabad is located in Nangarhar province, on the border with Pakistan and the region is a stronghold for the IS group. Earlier on Wednesday the Taliban, which has a strong presence in the province, denied any involvement in the attack.
Our Observer lives a few blocks from the Save the Children office. We have changed her name for security reasons. This is what she saw:
“A few minutes after 9am local time, I heard a very loud noise and my house trembled. This was followed by a series of smaller blasts and the sound of gunfire. I live only a few blocks from Save the Children, so I could hear everything.
I tried to see what was going on, but the sounds were so frightening that I went back into my house. I heard people shouting. I could see smoke rising from a small warehouse right next to the Save the Children offices.”
“Once I realised that the army had arrived – I could hear them exchanging fire with the attackers – I went outside again. There were soldiers on rooftops, and the army had closed the roads about 300 metres around the attack zone. People in that zone were evacuated. Some local told me there were three attackers.
As far as I could tell, life went on as usual in other parts of the city. It seems to me that we’ve gotten used to this violence.
My city is under the influence of extremists groups – they are popular with many people here. But people also respect Save the Children because they help many poor men and women in Jalalabad, and abandoned children too. They employ Afghans, as well.
‘There is a reasoning behind these attacks on NGOs’
“But armed opposition groups like the Taliban or the Islamic State group target all organisations that are tied to the government or to the West. [Editor’s Note: In October, the International Committee of the Red Cross announced that it would reduce its presence in Afghanistan after seven of its employees were killed last year. Back in 2013, the Red Cross offices in Jalalabad were targeted in an attack that left one person dead]. Today it was Save the Children’s turn, and tomorrow it will be another NGO.
There is a reasoning behind these attacks on NGOs. Extremist groups see NGOs like Save the Children and the Red Cross as their rivals. These NGOs help people that might otherwise end up joining the extremist groups’ ranks. And they influence people’s ways of thinking. So these extremist groups want locals to come to them when they have any sort of problem – they consider themselves the big bosses.
The extremists want to drive NGOs out. If the security situation makes more and more NGOs leave the country, that would leave the Afghan government all alone. The extremist groups want this to happen because they believe that the people will then turn to them to solve all of their problems, and the government will fall.
I have trouble understanding how it’s possible for an attack like this one to happen when the US has a military base near Jalalabad and the army has a garrison of 30,000 soldiers here. How do the extremists still have the upper hand in our region?”
This attack comes only days after Taliban gunmen stormed Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel on Saturday, killing at least 22 people.