KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Taliban stormed a government compound in central Afghanistan early Thursday, triggering an hours-long gunbattle that killed 15, including three top local officials, police and government officials said.
The blistering attack in the Khuja Omari district was the latest insurgent assault in Ghazni province, which is now largely under Taliban control. The Taliban planted mines to prevent government reinforcements from coming to help and quickly took responsibility for the attack, said Mohammad Arif Rahmani, a lawmaker in the Afghan Parliament.
The insurgent group’s spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, told The Associated Press by telephone that after the attack in Khuja Omari — not far from the provincial capital also called Ghazni — all security posts in the district were under Taliban control. The district center, however, was still in government hands.
The province of Ghazni is located south of Kabul province, the seat of the country’s capital, Kabul, and lies along a key route. Travel by road between the capital and southern Kandahar province, a traditional Taliban heartland, is considered dangerous because of large swaths that are now under insurgent control.
Mujahid gave a higher casualty figure among the Afghan forces, which the Taliban often do, exaggerating their achievements on the battlefield, and a significantly lower death toll among the insurgent attackers.
Rahmani said the district governor, intelligence service director and a deputy police official were among those killed in Thursday’s attack. He said the fighting began around 2 a.m. with the Taliban storming the highly secure compound in Khuja Omari district.
President Ashraf Ghani condemned the attack and the killing of Ali Dost Shams, the district governor, and the others in the assault, which he said was carried out by “Afghanistan’s enemy” — a reference to the Taliban.
Ramazan Ali Moseni, deputy chief police in Ghazni province, said seven killed were police officers and five were members of the country’s intelligence agency known by the acronym NDS were also killed. Moseni also said 45 Taliban were killed and eight members of the Afghan security forces were wounded.
The casualty figures are impossible to independently verify because of the remoteness of the area. In a separate incident north of Kabul, a sticky bomb destroyed an oil tanker outside the Bagram military base, where U.S. forces are stationed.
Bagram District Gov. Abdul Shukoor Qudusi said the driver was wounded in the explosion late Wednesday night, which set several shops in the area on fire. There were no injuries at the base, which is heavily fortified. No immediately took responsibility for the bombing.
Also on Thursday, the United Nations’ Afghanistan assistance mission urged warring factions in the country to protect civilians, saying the civilian death toll in the first three months of this year was a staggering 763 people.
Most civilians were killed by insurgents, and fewer people were killed by pro-government security forces than previously, said the U.N. quarterly report noting that suicide bombings accounted for most of the fatalities as well as injuries, which numbered 1,495.
“Afghan civilians continue to suffer, caught in the conflict, in ways that are preventable; this must stop now,” said Ingrid Hayden, the secretary-general’s deputy special representative for Afghanistan.