25 dead, 46 wounded in Kandahar standoff
KANDAHARCITY (PAN): Afghan security forces backed by foreign troops clashed with insurgents for a second day on Sunday amid a wave of bomb blasts and gun attacks which left at least 25 people dead and 46 others wounded in southern Kandahar city.
Two attackers who were holed up in a building near Kandahar's intelligence headquarters have been killed, leaving just one more inside, the governor's spokesman Zalmay Ayubi said.
The breakthrough came after heavily-armed militants breached security in the sweeping assault, the most significant since the Taliban announced the start of their annual spring offensive last week, vowing to step up their fight after US commandos killed Osama bin Laden in neighbouring Pakistan.
Armed with guns and rocket-propelled grenades, the insurgents started firing at the governor's office from nearby buildings at 1:00 pm (0830 GMT) Saturday.
There were at least 10 blasts, including seven suicide attacks that rocked the city as assaults spread to other sites including police stations and the office of the National Directorate of Security (NDS).
Ayubi said although the violence died down overnight, several Taliban fighters still occupied a traffic police building on Sunday, armed with guns, rockets and grenades.
"Two attackers were shot dead. There is one person still in there," he said.
"Eight vehicles packed with explosives were found today and destroyed by foreign forces. One suicide bomber driving a car was identified, shot at and killed by Afghan security forces."
Provincial officials say that 23 insurgents have now been killed and at least seven captured.
President Hamid Karzai branded the attack "revenge" for this week's killing of the Al-Qaeda leader by US forces in Pakistan. The Taliban, however, said the operation was planned several weeks in advance.
A resident of Mirwais Maidna locality, Habibullah, said his children stayed awoke all the night due gun battles and explosions. He asked the Taliban not to attack officials inside the city, because many civilians were caught in the crossfire.
"We have a patient at home, but we could not take him to hospital due to firings in the city," a resident of the first police district, Saifullah, said.
Militants used public places and markets for their attacks on government departments, but security personnel pushed them back, a statement from the governor's office said.
It said six suicide bombers, a soldier and a civilian have been killed and 29 others, most of them civilians, were injured during the attacks. There were two car bomb blasts and as many rickshaw blasts, the statement added.
A security official said more than 25 explosions took place since Saturday afternoon.
A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, claimed 116 security personnel were killed and wounded and 19 military vehicles destroyed.
Insurgents, including those who had escaped from a jail in April, were involved in the attacks, according to the ministry of interior. The ministry spokesman Zamarai Bashari, told a press conference in Kabul that militants holed up in a hotel were firing at security forces.
Eight militants carried out suicide blasts and another 15 were killed by security forces, he said, adding two policemen were also killed. The injured included 15 civilians, 12 policemen and 11 intelligence operatives.
Nearly 500 Taliban prisoners escaped from Kandahar's prison last month through a huge tunnel. Also in April, Kandahar's police chief was killed by an attacker in a police uniform, while Wesa's deputy was assassinated in January.
A doctor at the Mirwais Hospital, who did not want to be named, said they had received two dead bodies and 46 wounded people, including three women, at the hospital. The women later succumbed to their injuries, he added.
The interior ministry spokesman said that clashes between police and insurgents lasted long to avoid civilian casualties.
Insurgents on Saturday afternoon launched a wave of attacks, including bomb blasts, targeting the governor's compound, intelligence department, and the first police district and public services police department.
The Taliban claimed more than 100 fighters took part in the offensive and their goal was to take control of Kandahar city.
Fighting had stopped overnight after Afghan forces secured the government buildings that had been attacked, Bashari said, although sporadic gunshots and explosions could be heard around the city.
So far, he said a total of 23 attackers had been killed as well as two members of the security forces. Another 40 people were wounded. Of the dead attackers, eight detonated their suicide vests. Security forces captured four of the attackers, Bashary added.
Government officials said they had no accurate estimate of how many attackers were involved, but NATO estimated 40 to 60 militants took part.
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