KHOST, Afghanistan (AFP) – Two Taliban gunmen wearing suicide vests and carrying rocket launchers stormed an Afghan apartment block Monday, sparking a gun battle with police that killed them both, officials said.
The attack was the latest in an ongoing and increasingly deadly insurgency being waged by the remnants of the Taliban and comes a day after security forces killed nearly two dozen rebels in raids across the country.
The militants seized the building near police headquarters in Gardez, capital of eastern Paktia province, at about 10:00 am (0530 GMT) and began firing at security forces as they surrounded the building, an official said.
Eastern Afghanistan is one of the worst flashpoints of violence in the insurgency, which is now at its bloodiest since US-led troops ousted the country’s Taliban regime in late 2001.
“It’s now over. They were two people and both have been killed,” the provincial police chief, General Azizuddin Wardak, told AFP. Three civilians, including a woman, plus a police officer were wounded, he added.
A purported Taliban spokesman, speaking from an unknown location, said the Islamist militia carried out the operation.
Wardak said earlier that four militants were killed but subsequent checks showed that two of the four were wounded civilians.
The militants were armed with rifles, rocket launchers and grenades, and were wearing bomb-packed suicide vests, the police chief said.
Their bombs went off under police fire, he said. He did not give further details, saying the incident was being investigated.
Security forces surrounded the residential apartment block about 200 metres (yards) from a quick reaction police unit, he said.
Coordinated gun and suicide attacks, usually targeting Afghan government officials and security installations, have become increasingly frequent.
Three Taliban militants armed with suicide vests and machine guns stormed a United Nations guesthouse in Kabul in October, killing eight people including five UN staff.
The interior ministry also confirmed that two militants were killed during Monday’s attack in Gardez.
Ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary said one was shot while trying to run at the security forces, but his vest detonated.
“The explosives he had on his body exploded after our security forces opened fire at him,” Bashary said, adding that a second militant was shot dead later.
Paktia lies on the border with Pakistan, where the Taliban have havens and where the United States is putting increasing pressure on Islamabad to crack down on militants who use Pakistani territory to launch attacks in Afghanistan.
Military and government officials also announced Monday that about two dozen rebels had been killed in recent raids across the war-ravaged country.
In southern Helmand province — rife with Taliban fighters — eight militants were killed on Sunday in a joint operation by Afghan and foreign forces, the defence ministry said in a statement.
Seven were killed the same day in a similar raid in the northeastern province of Kunduz while six others died in Wardak province, it added.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said separately it killed two militants on Monday in Ghazni province, south of Kabul.
Bidding to contain the resurgent Taliban, US President Barack Obama and NATO allies have pledged an extra 37,000 troops for Afghanistan, which should take the overall foreign deployment to 150,000.