KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan forces fought for hours against Taliban insurgents who killed at least four civilians and wounding dozens more when they stormed an aid organization in the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Wednesday, security officials said.
The assault began shortly before midday, when a car bomb exploded in the compound of the non-profit Counterpart International, in the Shahr Naw area of Kabul, the latest assault by Taliban insurgents even as they hold peace talks.
At least four civilians, including a woman and a policeman, were killed and 24 civilians and policemen were wounded, said Nasrat Rahimi, an interior ministry spokesman. One of the wounded was a foreign national, he said, but did not give his nationality.
“The attack is over and security forces cleared the building and rescued hundreds of people, including group employees who were trapped inside,” Rahimi said. Five of the attackers were shot dead by security forces, he said.
Explosions and bursts of gunfire rocked the area after it was surrounded by special forces, backed by advisers from foreign forces, trying to flush out the attackers. Authorities cordoned off the site, dispatching ambulances and police trucks.
“My family is stuck in our house close to the site and they are terrified,” said a government employee, Naqibullah.
Amanullah Rahim, an eyewitness, said, “I was in my shop when I heard a huge explosion that shattered all the windows and damaged everything. I ran away and thank God I am not hurt.”
At least nine injured people were taken to a hospital, said Wahidullah Mayar, a health ministry spokesman. Officials at the city’s Emergency Hospital said they had received 17 wounded.
“We are incredibly saddened by this attack and we are working as quickly as possible to account for our staff,”Counterpart, which has operated in Afghanistan since 2005, said in a Twitter post.
Taliban militants claimed responsibility for the attack, which came on the third day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid called the group a U.S. network involved in harmful Western activities in Afghanistan.
The attack could undermine a sixth round of peace talks between U.S. and Taliban representatives in Qatar seeking negotiations to end the nearly 18-year-long conflict.
It comes after the Taliban refused an offer by President Ashraf Ghani for a ceasefire from the first day of Ramadan.
“The Taliban must respond positively to the peace demand of the Afghan people, otherwise, they will be suppressed by our heroic and brave security forces,” Ghani said in a statement condemning Wednesday’s attack as un-Islamic.
The U.S. ambassador, John Bass, condemned the attack, saying the aid group helped local communities, trained journalists and supported the Afghan people.
Taliban spokesman Mujahid said the aid group worked closely with government departments promoting women, an effort opposed by the hard-line Islamist group.
Before being toppled by U.S. and Afghan forces in late 2001, Afghanistan’s harsh Taliban regime barred women from working outside their homes and required them to be accompanied by a male relative.
Despite stepping up security around Kabul, Afghan authorities have failed to deter deadly attacks that have undermined confidence in the government.
Just over two weeks ago, gunmen targeted the communications ministry in Kabul, killing at least seven people in an attack claimed by Islamic State.
Writing by Hamid Shalizi, Rupam Jain; editing by Clarence Fernandez, Larry King