Suicide bombers and insurgent gunmen killed at least 22 people during an attack on a governor’s compound in central Afghanistan yesterday, officials said, with gunbattles and blasts heard before the assault was put down.
A Reuters witness and others nearby reported hearing at least five explosions as Afghan security forces inside the compound of Parwan governor Abdul Basir Salangi fought back.
The Interior Ministry said 22 people were killed and 34 wounded. The dead included 16 government employees and six police, it said in a statement.
Parwan lies about an hour’s drive northwest of Kabul, another worrying sign of the reach of the Taliban and other insurgents.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the Parwan attack.
Eight days ago, a rocket--propelled grenade fired by the Taliban brought down a NATO helicopter in another central Afghan province near Kabul, killing 30 US and eight Afghan troops in the worst single incident for foreign forces in 10 years of war.
Salangi said as many as six suicide bombers and insurgent gunmen attacked his compound.
“The enemies are still inside the compound. We are fighting back,” Salangi earlier told private TOLO News television.
“Six suicide bombers attacked while we were holding a meeting,” he said.
TOLO reported that the provincial police chief was also at the meeting.
Insurgents, often from the Taliban, have launched a series of attacks against government targets over the past year, often in the east of the country near the porous border with Pakistan’s largely lawless tribal lands.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said it had been asked to help -Afghan forces put down the attack.
“ISAF are assisting the Afghan-led response to this attack by providing helicopter support,” an ISAF spokesman in Kabul said.
ISAF in Kabul confirmed several of its members were attending a meeting in Salangi’s office at the time of the attack, but said none was injured.
Violence across Afghanistan last year reached its worst levels since the Taliban were toppled by US-backed Afghan forces in late 2001, and this year has followed a similar trend.
While foreign military casualties hit record levels last year — and this year has been almost as bloody — civilians continue to bear the brunt of the costly and increasingly unpopular war.
UN figures released last month showed that the first six months of this year had been the deadliest of the war for ordinary Afghans, with 1,462 killed, a rise of 15 percent on the same period last year. The same UN report blamed 80 percent of those civilian casualties on insurgents.
US and other NATO commanders have claimed success in halting the momentum of a growing insurgency in the Taliban heartland in the south over the past year, although insurgents have hit back with strikes against targets in once relatively peaceful parts of the country.
A recent spike in violence also followed the beginning of a gradual process to hand security responsibility back to Afghans last month.
That process will end with the final foreign combat troops leaving Afghanistan by the end of 2014.