Militant suicide attack in 'peaceful' Afghan province

BAZARAK, Afghanistan (AFP) - Afghan security forces killed six militants who stormed the Panjshir provincial governor's office early on Wednesday in a brazen assault in one of the country's most stable areas.

Panjshir northeast of Kabul was a bastion of anti-Taleban resistance during the extremists' 1996-2001 regime, and has been largely peaceful since they were ousted.

The attack by a team of would-be suicide bombers will heighten concerns about the militants' ability to strike in districts where they have little presence or public support.

"Six suicide bombers wearing police uniform entered the governor's office. Our security team responded and all, except one who detonated himself, were brought down," Mr Abdul Kabir Waseq, the governor's spokesman, told AFP.

One policeman was killed by the suicide bomb in the attack, which started at around 4am and continued for about one hour.

The bodies of the attackers were displayed in the front of the burnt-out and bullet-damaged compound as firemen damped down the remains of a blaze that took hold during fighting.

The governor was asleep in separate accommodation nearby and was unhurt in the attack, for which the Taleban claimed responsibility.

Mr Waseq said an explosives-packed car that had not been detonated was recovered from the scene in the district of Barazak.

The Afghan government immediately hailed the security forces for their actions, with an interior ministry spokesman saying that they were "more capable than ever".

The attack followed a major assault on Kabul on Friday, when the Taleban launched a suicide and gun strike on an international compound in the city centre and triggered a battle that lasted several hours.

All four militants, one policeman and two civilians died in that attack.

The effectiveness of Afghan security forces is crucial to the government's ability to defeat the Taleban insurgency as 100,000 Nato-led combat troops prepare to withdraw by the end of 2014.

The police, army and special forces are being trained up by the international coalition, but there are widespread fears that they will not be able to impose security after 12 years of war.

The fiercely anti-Taleban Panjshir valley is one of the most scenic places in Afghanistan, and is tightly secured by checkpoints on the main road at the valley entrance.

It was previously a stronghold of the Northern Alliance resistance, which successfully held Panjshir against repeated advances by the ruling Taleban forces.

Mr Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Northern Alliance's leader, was assassinated days before the 9/11 attacks on the United States by militants and is buried at a large tomb in the valley.

In Baghlan province which borders Panjshir, a suicide bomber struck outside government buildings 10 days ago, killing 14 people including a local politician.

The insurgents launched their annual "spring offensive" last month, vowing to use suicide blasts to inflict maximum casualties and warning Afghans working for President Hamid Karzai's regime to distance themselves from the government.