Troops yesterday battled to end a gun and bomb siege near the Indian consulate in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif, while in a separate attack, a suicide bomber struck near Kabul’s international airport, underscoring the worsening security situation in Afghanistan.
No group has so far claimed responsibility for the raid on the diplomatic mission in northern Afghanistan, the latest in a series of assaults on Indian installations in the country.
The standoff in the northern Balkh Province began on Sunday night when the attackers first tried to storm the consulate, taking advantage of the fact that many people were watching the final of a football championship between Afghanistan and India, and then made their way into the adjacent building.
After a heavy exchange of fire that went on until well into the night, security forces suspended operations before resuming in the morning, firing rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns at the building.
As the battle stretched into yesterday afternoon, soldiers entered the building, a large structure formerly used as an office by US development agency USAID, where between four and six attackers had locked themselves inside a safe room.
“The area is sealed off and we are proceeding cautiously and making all possible efforts to protect the lives of those in the area. The attackers will be killed,” Balkh Province Governor Atta Mohammad Noor said on Facebook.
Gunfire rang out as a helicopters circled overhead in a residential area of the city.
At least four civilians and six security force personnel were wounded, but the Indian ambassador said all the consulate staff were safe. There was no confirmation of any killed or wounded among the attackers.
According to provincial police spokesman Sher Jan Durani, the attackers were armed with rocket-propelled grenades, hand grenades and light weapons.
The assaults on Indian targets appear aimed at derailing Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s bold diplomatic outreach to Pakistan following his first official visit to Afghanistan last month.
The spike in violence came about a week after Modi paid a surprise visit to Pakistan, the first by an Indian prime minister in 11 years. The visit immediately followed a whirlwind tour of Kabul, where Modi inaugurated an Indian-built parliament complex and gave three Russian-made helicopters to the Afghan government.
India has been a key supporter of Kabul’s post-Taliban government, and analysts have often pointed to the threat of a “proxy war” in Afghanistan between India and Pakistan.
Pakistan — the historic backer of the Taliban — has long been accused of assisting the insurgents, especially with attacks on Indian targets in Afghanistan.
In Kabul, a “suicide bomber in a Toyota sedan detonated his vehicle ... near Kabul airport,” Afghan Ministry of the Interior spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said. “Fortunately only the attacker was killed.”
An hour earlier, thousands had gathered to welcome the Afghan national football team after its match in the South Asia soccer final against India, but by the time the bomber detonated his car, they had dispersed.
The latest unrest coincides with a renewed international push to revive peace talks with the resurgent militant movement.
On Monday next week, Afghanistan and Pakistan are set to hold a first round of dialogue, also involving the US and China, to try to lay out a roadmap for peace.
Additional reporting by AP
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