International

Taliban attack Kabul guesthouse and British embassy car

KABUL: Gunfire and explosions erupted as Taliban militants attacked a foreign guesthouse in central Kabul Thursday, officials said, hours after a suicide bomber targeted a British embassy vehicle in a blast that killed six people.

Attacks across the Afghan capital have increased in recent weeks as US-led NATO forces wrap up their 13-year combat mission against Taliban insurgents at the end of this year.

Fears are growing that Afghanistan could descend into a spiral of violence as the NATO military presence declines, with the national security forces already suffering high battlefield casualties.

Two militants were killed by police inside the guesthouse and one Nepalese guard was wounded in the fighting, Kabul police spokesman Hashmat Stanakzai told AFP.

Details about the guesthouse were not confirmed, but Wazir Akbar Khan district is home to several international contractor firms, development agencies and embassies.

Sporadic gunfire and grenade blasts erupted for at least 45 minutes as security forces fought to clear the building.

“The attack was against a foreigners’ guest house,” deputy interior minister Ayub Salangi told Tolo TV news. “The police have entered the building.”

Earlier in the day, a suicide bomber rammed his explosives-packed car into a British embassy vehicle in the east of the city, killing one British bodyguard and five Afghans.

The Taliban used a recognised Twitter account to say they were behind both attacks.

At least eight blasts have hit Kabul over the last 10 days, including attacks on foreign compounds and on a female Afghan member of parliament who was injured in a suicide bombing that targeted her car.

– ‘Senseless and cowardly’ –

A British bodyguard and an Afghan employee of the British embassy died in the blast on Thursday, which hit their vehicle on a stretch of road notorious for suicide attacks.

At least four Afghan bystanders were also killed, and more than 30 others injured.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond condemned the attack on the embassy vehicle as “senseless and cowardly”.

“It reminds us once again of the risks our personnel take every day to keep trying to help Afghans build a better future — and by helping them do so, protect our own security and own interests,” he told a press conference in Rome.

A second member of the British embassy’s security team was injured in the bombing, which threw the 4×4 vehicle onto its side.

The roof was blown off and car parts scattered across the Jalalabad road, a main route where many fortified compounds and military facilities are located.

At the site, an AFP reporter saw one badly-shaken foreign passenger talking to Afghan police, asking after his colleagues.

A nearby policeman said that passengers covered in blood had been taken to hospital.

Afghanistan suffered its deadliest attack of 2014 on Sunday when a suicide bomber struck at a volleyball match in the eastern province of Paktika, killing 57 people.

About 12,500 foreign troops are set to stay on into 2015 after the NATO combat mission ends, to train and support the Afghan army and police.

The Afghan parliament on Thursday passed long-delayed legislation allowing the NATO support mission next year.

President Ashraf Ghani, who came to power in September, has vowed to bring peace to Afghanistan after decades of conflict, saying he is open to talks with the Taliban, who ruled Kabul from 1996 to 2001.

Ghani finally emerged as president after signing a power-sharing deal with his poll rival Abdullah Abdullah.

Both men claimed to have won fraud-tainted elections in a prolonged stand-off that caused political paralysis in Kabul and fuelled worsening violence nationwide.

Britain hosts a major donor conference on Afghanistan next week, which was meant to showcase Ghani’s “national unity government” and demonstrate continuing international support for the country. -AFP

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