KABUL: Three Afghan women working on a UN-funded anti-polio vaccination drive were killed in two separate attacks by unidentified gunmen on Tuesday in Afghanistan’s eastern city of Jalalabad, officials told Arab News.
“We can confirm that three women vaccinators were killed by armed men in two different areas of the city,” Attuallah Khogyani, spokesman for Nangarhar’s governor, told Arab News.
Jalalabad is the provincial capital of Nangarhar, which lies near the border with Pakistan.
“We do not have further details, but the women were on foot and were going from house to house to find children who needed to be vaccinated,” Khogyani added.
Another source who requested anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media told Arab News that “both incidents seem to have been coordinated.”
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Tuesday’s incident, which comes weeks after the killing of three women journalists in Jalalabad in an attack claimed by Daesh.
Despite crackdowns by Afghan and US-led troops, Daesh has managed to retain a presence in Jalalabad.
The attacks on Tuesday came a day after the nationwide launch of Afghanistan’s first polio vaccination campaign this year — led by the Health Ministry in association with UNICEF, the UN children’s agency.
For the past nine years, Afghanistan has ranked in the top places globally for poliovirus cases. Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria are the only countries where the crippling disease is endemic.
According to UNICEF’s 2020 data, 56 new poliovirus cases were reported in Afghanistan last year — a “bad year” for the country, which had seen a drop in numbers since 2011.
The anti-polio drive, which is expected to inoculate 9.6 million children under 5 across the country, has seen a series of setbacks in several Taliban-controlled areas in recent years.
“Today’s attack will certainly disrupt the process of vaccinations,” Taj Mohammad, an analyst, told Arab News.
“Three women journalists were killed several weeks ago, and Daesh claimed responsibility for that. The new attack is a stark indication that Nangarhar is becoming increasingly unsafe despite the government’s claim of having wiped out Daesh,” he added.
The killings come amid renewed efforts by regional allies and Washington to prevent a collapse of peace talks between the Taliban and Kabul, both of which consider Daesh their arch-foe.
Speaking in Tajikistan on Tuesday, during the Heart of Asia conference to discuss Afghan peace, Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, said that “all countries should be alert about Daesh’s attempt to use extremist elements in religious and ethnic conflicts in Afghanistan.”