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Taliban Fighters Ordered to Help Earthquake Victims and Not Kill Aid Workers

The massive quake that has now killed more than 300 people in Afghanistan and Pakistan has prompted the Taliban to get involved in the disaster relief effort.

by Reuters and VICE News
Oct 27 2015, 5:05pm

Photo by Naim Rahimi/AP

The Taliban says it won't stand in the way of international humanitarian groups trying to reach remote areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan to assist victims of the massive earthquake that hit the region on Monday, killing more than 300 people.

The militant group, which ruled Afghanistan prior to the US invasion in 2001 and has been fighting Western-backed government forces in the country ever since, also announced that its fighters have been ordered to help residents of areas affected by the disaster.

"The Islamic Emirate calls on our good-willed countrymen and charitable organizations to not hold back in providing shelter, food and medical supplies to the victims," the group said in a message of condolence to quake victims, using its formal name. "And it similarly orders its mujahideen in the affected areas to lend their complete help."

Related: US Aid to Afghanistan Has Largely Been Wasted and Stolen, Report Says

Foreign aid workers have frequently been targeted by militants in the two countries, with at least 430 attacks recorded over the past decade in Afghanistan and 93 in Pakistan, according to the Aid Worker Security Database.

The earthquake has killed at least 115 people in Afghanistan and 228 in neighboring Pakistan. The death toll is expected to rise as icy winter weather hits isolated villages in mountainous areas of Afghanistan. The quake destroyed at least 4,000 homes and compounds, leaving thousands homeless, according to a spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

"We have insufficient food and other aid," said Abdul Habib Sayed Khil, chief of police in Kunar, one of the worst-hit provinces, where 42 people were confirmed dead. "It has been raining for four days and the weather is very cold."

The worst impact was reported in Faizabad, capital of Badakhshan province, but there was also significant damage in the provinces of Kunar, Nuristan, Laghman, Takhar, Baghlan, and Nangarhar.

While the Taliban's announcement has alleviated some security concerns for aid groups, safety remains an issue as workers assess how they will reach dangerous areas prone to heavy snow, rain, landslides, and aftershocks.

"Security is of course a large factor," said Kjersti Haraldseide, acting country director for the Norwegian Refugee Council. "There is a limitation to humanitarian actors' access to some of the areas."

Related: We're a Long Way From Earthquake Predictions

Monday's initial 7.5 magnitude quake was followed by seven aftershocks of varying intensity, including one that hit 4.8 on the Richter scale, the US Geological Survey said. The latest aftershock came just before dawn on Tuesday.

The earthquake struck almost exactly six months after Nepal suffered its worst quake on record, on April 25. Including the toll from a major aftershock in May, 9,000 people lost their lives and 900,000 homes were damaged or destroyed in the disaster.

The mountainous region of South Asia is seismically active, with earthquakes resulting from the Indian subcontinent driving into and under the Eurasian landmass. Sudden tectonic shifts can cause enormous and destructive releases of energy.

A 7.6 magnitude earthquake killed an estimated 75,000 people when it struck northern Pakistan on October 8, 2005.

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Watch the VICE News dispatch from the aftermath of the earthquake in Nepal: