The founder and CEO of Roots of Peace, a San Rafael-based humanitarian nonprofit, credited its Afghan security guards and military forces with protecting the organization’s employees after its office in Kabul was inadvertently attacked by the Taliban early on the morning of March 28.
Heidi Kuhn said the intended target was a Christian day-care center in an adjoining building. Five Taliban insurgents died, but the Roots of Peace staff survived. The staff consists of five expatriates — two Americans, an Australian, a Malaysian and a South African.
Kuhn told Isabel Angell of KQED that a suicide bomber blew up the gate of the building the group shared with the child-care center. “We were hearing these shots and these screams on the other side of the world,” she said, “as we monitored this from the living room of our family home at 6 o’clock in the morning when we woke up to the cries, ‘Roots of Peace is under attack, the Taliban is here.’ ”
Roots of Peace is working to find a new home, Kuhn said.
In a statement, she said: “Afghan security guards and highly trained Afghan military forces trained by the United States and NATO forces saved the day without any casualties to our employees.
“During the siege, our Afghan drivers and staff actually ran towards the building in an effort to assist the military assault against the Taliban,” Kuhn wrote. “When asked by police as to ‘why’ they were running in the wrong direction, they replied, ‘Roots of Peace has been our family for the past 10 years, we are defending our own.’ ”
Roots of Peace has worked in Afghanistan since 2003 and currently employs 350 Afghans working in all 34 provinces. In her statement, Kuhn estimated that the nonprofit has removed about 10 million land mines and replaced them with agricultural crops such as grapes and raisins, creating an export market.
Kuhn praised Sharif Osmani, the nonprofit’s country director in Afghanistan, for coordinating the security response team and operating “with professionalism amid the chaos.”
“We trusted the Afghans, and they clearly demonstrated their leadership,” Kuhn said.
A New York Times story reported that while the gun battle was taking place at Roots of Peace, police rescued two dozen foreigners, including at least five young Western children, an extremely unusual sight in Kabul these days. A 16-year-old Afghan girl, not connected to Roots of Peace, was killed in the assault.
“The shootout was the latest in a series of deadly attacks on foreign journalists, aid workers and visitors since January, in the midst of heavy security for the Afghan presidential election campaign,” the Times said.
Kuhn told KQED that, despite the attack, Roots of Peace is still committed to its mission in Afghanistan.
The Afghan election will be held this Saturday, April 5.