25 May 2013

Eight killed in Taliban assault on UN Kabul building

9:15 pm on 25 May 2013

A Taliban assault on a UN building in Kabul has ended after a fierce 10-hour gunbattle in which at least eight people were killed.

Two Afghan civilians, an Afghan police officer and five Taliban insurgents were among the dead. Four Nepalese guards, four foreigners, two police officers and two civilians were wounded.

Officials say civilian casualties were relatively low because it was a Friday, which is the weekend in Afghanistan.

The attack - the second major one in the capital in a little more than a week - began late in the afternoon when insurgents wearing suicide vests and armed with machine-guns and rocket-propelled grenades tried to storm a building of the UN-affiliated International Office of Migration.

When Nepalese security guards at the building fought back, the attackers took shelter in a civilian house next door, igniting a massive firefight that raged into the night, a guard commander told German news agency DPA.

Kabul police say the last insurgent was killed after holing up in the house for 10 hours.

The neighbourhood is home to several UN offices, diplomatic missions and security installations, as well as private guesthouses and two hospitals, one of which is run by the Afghan intelligence agency.

A New Zealander working with the International Committee of the Red Cross in central Kabul, Graham Duggan, says he was moved by bus to his home compound as soon as it was deemed safe but expects to be locked down for the next day or so.

He says everything has returned to what he calls Kabul-normal.

Spring offensive launched

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack within an hour.

"A number of mujahideen (freedom fighters) attacked a refuge used by CIA officials in Kabul as well as a department of the interior ministry," spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement.

The Taliban have launched their spring offensive with a flurry of bombings and attacks around the country, DPA reports.

When they stormed a district in southern Afghanistan earlier this week, a gunbattle left at least 30 insurgents and five security force members dead.

Fifteen people were killed on 16 May in the suicide bombing of a military convoy by a group allied to the Taliban.

Most international troops are due to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.