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Taliban attack north of Kabul underscores Afghan insecurity

KABUL, Afghanistan — Taliban insurgents stormed into the governor's compound in a normally peaceful province north of Kabul on Sunday, killing 22 and wounding at least 34 in a dramatic demonstration that few locations in Afghanistan are free from the threat of attack.

The assault, which began with a suicide car bombing, came as the governor of Parwan province was chairing a morning meeting with security officials. The governor narrated the attack as it was unfolding in an interview with an Afghan television station.

"I'm inside," the governor, Abdul Basir Salangi, told Tolo News. As he spoke, gun battles raged in the compound and one of the attackers attempted to storm the governor's office. The attacker was shot dead. Salangi told Tolo he was uninjured.

The gun battle lasted less than an hour, but its toll was grave. At least 16 civilians, most of them employees of the provincial government, died as did six police officers. The wounded included at least 10 police officers, officials said.

The six attackers also died, one when he triggered a car bomb at the entrance to the compound, signaling the beginning of the attack, and the other five in the fighting that ensued when they rushed into the compound. Two of the attackers killed themselves by detonating explosive vests they were wearing; the other three were killed by police fire, the Afghan Interior Ministry said in a statement.

Tolo News reported that a helicopter belonging to the U.S.-led coalition overflew the compound and that "foreign forces" were in the area, but there was no indication they were involved in the fighting.

Many of the dead and injured appeared to have suffered extensive shrapnel wounds.

"My cousin who was working as a manager in the governor compound has been killed in the attack, and I found his body in the hospital. He'd received many shrapnel wounds," Obaidullah Sediqi, a driver for the provincial council, told McClatchy by phone. "There were several other bodies and I checked their faces till I found my cousin."

Sediqi said he was still trying to determine the fate of his brother, who also was inside the compound when the attack began at about 11:30 a.m.

Parwan, whose capital, Charikar, is about 30 miles north of Kabul, has long been thought of as one of Afghanistan's more peaceful provinces. It is home to the largest U.S. military base in Afghanistan, and its major highway is a key supply route for U.S.-led NATO forces from the central Asian republics of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Last month, the U.S.-led coalition turned over security to Afghan forces in the neighboring province of Panjsher, part of the security transition intended to allow U.S. forces to withdraw by the end of 2014.

U.S. officials have said the surge of American troops into Afghanistan last year has hobbled the Taliban's ability to operate in many of their traditional strongholds. But the Taliban have shown themselves in the past several months still capable of launching deadly attacks even in the most secure locations, including a well-known Kabul hotel, the country's Defense Ministry and the nation's main military hospital.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack on their website.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack. "The enemies of Afghanistan do not stop killing our people even in the holy month of Ramadan," his statement said.

(Shukoor is a McClatchy special correspondent.)


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