KABUL (Reuters) - Four suicide bombers blew up near government buildings in an Afghan town on Tuesday, and militants barricaded themselves inside a building with hostages for hours until Afghan and Western troops overpowered them, officials said.
The coordinated attacks in the southeastern town of Khost formed one of the most brazen raids in recent months, a sign of the violence that Taliban militants have vowed to step up as more U.S. troops deploy to the country over the next few months.
The suicide blasts killed at least six people — four army soldiers and two civilians — and wounded 13, said Hamid Padshah, a doctor from a hospital in Khost, adding the toll may climb.
Security sources said that apart from the four bombers, three other militants were killed when the building they were barricaded in was stormed.
Interior ministry spokesman Zemaray Bashary said one suicide bomber was killed by police as he tried to break through the gate of the headquarters of Khost’s governor in a vehicle.
Explosives in his car went off and killed the four soldiers, he said. In another part of town, the other three suicide bombers clashed with security forces and their explosive vests were detonated, Bashary told state television.
Three other attackers entered a municipal administration building and held some hostages under siege, said three separate security sources who asked not to be named. The building caught fire after a series of explosions, they said.
After several hours of sporadic exchanges of gunfire, Afghan security forces backed by foreign troops killed the three fighters and rescued the hostages unharmed, they added.
A spokesman for a NATO force with troops in the town said four suicide bombers had blown themselves up but was not immediately able to give any further details.
The attack was one of the most brazen carried out by militants since February, when at least five attackers struck the Justice Ministry and the headquarters of the prison department in the capital Kabul, killing at least 19 people.
Suicide bombers and fighters have frequently launched similar attempts to penetrate government buildings in provincial cities.
Despite reinforcements to foreign forces in Afghanistan, violence has surged in the past year, making it the bloodiest period since U.S.-led troops overthrew the Taliban government in 2001.
Khost is near the porous Pakistani border and separated by mountains from other parts of Afghanistan.
The spread of Taliban attacks in Afghanistan and neighboring nuclear-armed Pakistan has raised alarm worldwide.
The new U.S. administration is sending 17,000 soldiers to Afghanistan in the next few months, part of a wave of reinforcements that will see the total U.S. force increase from 32,000 at the start of this year to 68,000 by the year’s end.
Additional reporting by Kamal Sadat; Editing by Alex Richardson