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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Suicide bombers, gunmen kill 19 in central Afghanistan


Afghanistan - Taliban suicide bombers and gunmen killed at least 19 people during an attack on a governor's compound in central Afghanistan on Sunday, officials said, with gunbattles and several 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.

A statement by Afghanistan's Interior Ministry said 19 people, including five police, were killed and 37 wounded.

"So far we have received 16 bodies and 29 have been injured," Mohammad Asif, a doctor at the Parwan provincial hospital, told Reuters. "Most of the bodies are government employees."

Parwan lies about an hour's drive northwest of the capital, Kabul, another worrying sign of the reach of the Taliban and other insurgents.

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 U.S. troops and eight Afghans in the worst single incident for foreign forces in 10 years of war.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the Parwan attack. Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Islamist group, said the assault began when a suicide car bomber detonated his explosives at the gate of the compound.

He said five other bombers made it inside the compound, where he claimed U.S. officials were taking part in a meeting.

"Many people were killed, including Americans, but we still don't have the exact information," Mujahid said by telephone from an undisclosed location.

The Taliban often exaggerate incidents involving Afghan government targets or foreign troops.

Sharafuddin Rahimi, an adviser to the Parwan police chief, said a meeting involving the police chief, the governor "and some foreign advisers" was under way when the attack was launched but said the attackers did not reach the meeting room.

He said one of the police chief's bodyguards was among those killed, as well as women and children.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said some of its troops had been in the vicinity but were not inside the compound when the attack took place. There were no reports of ISAF casualties, a spokesman for the coalition said.

ISAF provided helicopter support while the attack was quelled, he said.

In a statement from the presidential palace, Afghan President Hamid Karzai strongly condemned the Parwan attack.


In a dramatic interview from inside his compound, Salangi told the private TOLO News television channel that as many as six suicide bombers had launched the attack during a security meeting and that his forces were fighting back.

Sayed Rahman Sayedkheli, a Parwan police detective, said several buildings inside the compound were damaged in the attack.

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.

Violence across Afghanistan in 2010 reached its worst levels since the Taliban were toppled by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in late 2001, and 2011 has followed a similar trend.

While foreign military casualties hit record levels last year -- and 2011 has been almost as bloody -- civilians continue to bear the brunt of the costly and increasingly unpopular war.

U.N. figures released last month showed that the first six months of 2011 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 U.N. report blamed 80 percent of those civilian casualties on insurgents.

U.S. 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, although some U.S. lawmakers have questioned whether that timetable is not quick enough.

(Additional reporting by Mirwais Haroon, Abdul Saboor and Hamid Shalizi in KABUL; Writing by Paul Tait; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Alex Richardson)


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