Afghan troops descend onto building to put down attack near Indian Consulate


Afghan troops rappelled from helicopters onto the roof of a four-story building near the Indian Consulate in a northern city on Monday to drive out gunmen who had attacked the diplomatic mission the night before, officials said. It was later reported that three gunmen were killed and a search was underway for another others who may still be in the building.

The standoff in the northern province of Balkh began Sunday night when the attackers tried to storm the consulate and then retreated into the adjacent building.

Munir Ahmad Farhad, the spokesman for the provincial governor, confirmed that Afghan forces had been airdropped onto the building. Sher Jan Durani, the provincial police spokesman, said men armed with rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and light weapons had fired on troops from inside the building into the morning hours.

“At least two Afghan security forces were killed in the attack,” Farhad said, adding that since the building is close to a residential area, “we are careful to avoid civilian casualties.”

Dr. Noor Mohammad Faiz, a local health official, said three civilians and six soldiers have been hospitalized.

Meanwhile, a suicide car bomb attack near the Kabul international airport killed one civilian and wounded 22 others, including children and women, said Gen. Abdul Rahman Rahimi, the Kabul police chief.

“The attack took place near a logistics company in which one of the walls of the company is destroyed,” said Rahimi. He added that both Afghans and foreigners are working in the camp.

The powerful blast, which took place near the military entrance to the airport, shattered windows a half-kilometer away.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed the attack, saying a suicide bomber driving a truck loaded with explosives had attacked a compound belonging to foreigners.

A separate suicide car bomb attack near the airport earlier Monday did not kill anyone except the attacker, said police spokesman Basir Mujahad.

Thousands had gathered to welcome the Afghan national soccer team on its return from India, where it lost a South Asia championship Sunday night, but they had dispersed by the time the bombs went off.

No group claimed the earlier attack or the assault on the Indian Consulate. The Taliban have carried out similar attacks in the past.

Five bodies of soldiers were meanwhile found on the outskirts of the eastern city of Ghazni, said Mohammad Ali Ahmadi, the deputy provincial governor. He said the five were abducted from a main highway around a week earlier by Taliban insurgents.

The 25-hour gun and bomb siege near the Indian Consulate in Afghanistan’s Mazar-i-Sharif city ended late Monday, after a bloody weekend assault on an airbase in India near the Pakistan border.

Separately Monday a Taliban truck bomb struck a compound housing foreign civilian contractors near Kabul airport, wounding dozens of people just hours after a suicide bomber blew himself up around the same area.

The lethal assaults on Indian installations threaten to derail Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s bold diplomatic outreach to arch-rival Pakistan following his first official visit to Afghanistan last month.

No group has so far claimed responsibility for the raid on the diplomatic mission in northern Afghanistan, which left at least one policeman dead and 11 others wounded.

Gunfights and grenade explosions echoed as commandos shimmied down a rope from a helicopter onto the roof of a nearby building from where assailants had launched the attack on the tightly guarded compound.

“The clearance operation is over and all three armed assailants have been killed,” government spokesman Shir Jan Durrani said, 25 hours after the siege began.

“We are still doing room-to-room searches. The area is absolutely under government control.”

Strongman provincial Gov. Atta Mohammad Noor oversaw the operation armed with an AK47, denouncing the attackers as the “enemies of Afghanistan.”

Security officials said the operation was prolonged as commandos proceeded cautiously in the residential area to avoid civilian casualties.

An Indian official, who hunkered down in a secure area within the diplomatic enclave as the attack unfolded, told AFP by telephone Sunday that all consulate employees were safe.

Local police officials said some consulate workers had been evacuated during the fierce fighting.

The attack followed a raid over the weekend by Islamist insurgents on an air force base in the northern Indian state of Punjab.

Seven soldiers were confirmed killed in the raid on the Pathankot base, which triggered a 14-hour gun battle Saturday and fresh rounds of firing Sunday.

Indian troops backed by helicopters searched the base Monday, with an official saying that the fifth attacker had been gunned down.

“We are moving step by step to sanitize the area and it’s too early to say when the operation will be over,” said a military official who asked not to be named.

The United Jihad Council, a conglomerate of Pakistani proxy Islamist groups fighting in Indian-controlled Kashmir, has claimed responsibility for the attack.

The brazen assault — a rare targeting of an Indian military installation outside Kashmir — threatens to undermine the fragile peace process between the nuclear-armed rivals.

The spike in violence came about a week after Modi paid a surprise visit to Pakistan, the first by an Indian premier in 11 years.

The visit immediately followed a whirlwind tour of Kabul, where Modi inaugurated an Indian-built parliament complex and gave three Russian-made helicopters to the Afghan government.

India has been a key supporter of Kabul’s post-Taliban government, and analysts have often pointed to the threat of a “proxy war” in Afghanistan between India and Pakistan.

Pakistan — the historic backer of the Taliban — has long been accused of assisting the insurgents, especially with attacks on Indian targets in Afghanistan.

The Taliban have also stepped up attacks on government and foreign targets in Afghanistan, underscoring a worsening security situation.

A Taliban truck bomber Monday struck the outer wall of Camp Baron, a heavily guarded residential compound for foreign contractors, wounding 30 people including women and children, Afghan officials said.

The Pentagon named the compound as Camp Sullivan, adding that the attack caused no military casualties but NATO coalition troops were helping carry out medical evacuations.

The bombing, which was strongly felt across downtown Kabul, occurred close to where a suicide bomber struck earlier in the day, causing no casualties.

The latest unrest coincides with a renewed international push to revive peace talks with the resurgent militant movement.

On Jan. 11 Afghanistan and Pakistan are set to hold a first round of dialogue, also involving the U.S. and China, to try to lay out a comprehensive road map for peace.

Pakistan, which wields considerable influence over the Afghan Taliban, hosted a milestone first round of talks in July.

But the negotiations stalled when the insurgents belatedly confirmed the death of longtime leader Mullah Omar.

The attack on the consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif was the latest in a series of assaults on Indian targets in Afghanistan.

In 2008 a car bomb at the Indian Embassy in Kabul killed 60 people and the facility was again hit by a suicide strike in 2009.