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central asia institute school bombedMilitants bombed a Central Asia Institute girls’ middle school in Saw, a remote village in Afghanistan’s volatile Kunar province. Witnesses said no one died or was injured in the nighttime attack on the 10-room school, which occurred Feb. 6. Students and teachers are on their annual winter break.

“The Naray police do not know yet who attacked the school or why,” CAI Executive Director Jim Thaden said Thursday. “It may have been because it is a school. Or it may have been a result of a power clash between local Taliban and foreign militants.”

Saw is in a rugged, mountainous area on the porous Afghanistan–Pakistan border where militants frequently come and go. One of the most conflict-ridden zones in Afghanistan, it is also a crossroads for opium, heroin, and human trafficking.

Naray District Education Officer Maulvi Abdul Kayoum, who reported the attack to CAI, said three rooms – a classroom, the school office, and a storeroom – and a toilet were destroyed when the bomb was detonated. Sections of the roof were also blown off.

A health clinic in nearby Shir Gal village was also bombed that same night, but no one was injured or killed in that attack either. CAI also has a school in Shergal, but it was unharmed. The clinic plays a vital role, especially in maternal and infant health for the whole region.

Saw School’s enrollment reached more than 500 students during the last school year, which ended in December. According to the district education officer, more than half of the students in the village are girls and they represent the first wave of literate girls in the area. The community is determined to get some of them into university to become teachers, doctors, lawyers, police officers, and other professionals.

Wakil Karimi, CAI-Afghanistan director, said he is resolved to continue work with the school and the community.

“We will never quit to help the children of Saw and Naray district,” he said. “They are brave maktab mujahedeen

[education warriors], who risk their lives to go to school, and we must always honor and help them realize their dreams.”

The school was built in 2008-2009 and has always had fierce community support, including from the local Afghan Taliban, some of who send their daughters to the school.

central asia institute school bombed

Kayoum also told Karimi that the local Taliban commander for the Naray district had called him to say local Taliban were not involved. The commander reportedly apologized that the bombing had happened under his watch and vowed it would not happen again.

This is just the latest in a string of tragedies to befall Saw School in the past few years.

In 2011, a U.S. military helicopter landed on the school roof, and destroyed about 60 galvanized-steel sheets. Ever since, the roof has leaked whenever it rains or snows in the village, according to local reports. CAI has been unable to get the U.S. Department of Defense to repair the damage.

In June 2012, Malik Akbar, a local scholar and religious leader, and Malim Hidayatullah, a CAI math and Pashto teacher, were murdered by Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan [TTP] militants, not because they were teaching in school, but they were accused of being Afghan spies. The two men responsible for the deaths were killed in a combined NATO-Afghan air strike.

In May 2014, foreign militants killed Ghulam Faruq, Saw School headmaster and a powerful local leader and education advocate, by detonating a bomb on the trail he walked every day to the school. Local sources said TTP fighters killed him after he refused to let militants use the school as a shelter and weapons storage depot. He left behind a wife and eight children.

CAI is still collecting information about Wednesday’s bombing to determine in what capacity it can best help the community. However, it is winter in Saw and weather, the lack of cellphone and Internet coverage make that difficult.

Travel by road is also extremely challenging. The local bridge built by an international Provincial Reconstruction Team has collapsed and for the past 15 days Afghan Taliban have blocked the main road between Saw and Asadabad, the Kunar provincial capital, according to Naray police. Frequent TTP attacks on the roadblocks and checkposts make the situation even more complex.

“We will do everything in our power to help the Saw community continue education in the village, which has embraced the school since its inception nearly a decade ago,” Thaden said.

– Karin Ronnow, communications director, and Greg Mortenson, co-founder