10 die in Taleban siege near embassy in Kabul

Afghan municipality workers carrying the body of a militant in front of buildings damaged by a car bomb attack in Kabul on Friday. Afghan officials said four assailants were killed during the attack.
Afghan municipality workers carrying the body of a militant in front of buildings damaged by a car bomb attack in Kabul on Friday. Afghan officials said four assailants were killed during the attack.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

KABUL • At least four Afghan policemen and two Spaniards were killed in an hours-long Taleban siege near the Spanish embassy in Kabul's diplomatic quarter, the latest high-profile insurgent attack in the city.

Multiple blasts and gunfire rocked the high-security zone after the brazen raid began on Friday evening, just hours after President Ashraf Ghani voiced optimism that a peace process with the Taleban would resume within weeks.

"Four Afghan policemen, two foreign nationals and four attackers were killed in the terrorist attack in Kabul," Mr Fraidoon Obaidi, the head of Kabul's Criminal Investigation Department, said. Madrid confirmed that the two foreigners killed were Spanish policemen.

The assault began when a huge car bomb exploded during rush hour on Friday evening.

The powerful blast, which sent a thick plume of smoke into the sky, was followed by multiple explosions through the night, along with sporadic bursts of gunfire.

Afghan officials said the last of the four assailants was killed in the early hours of Saturday.

The attack followed a deadly 27-hour Taleban siege of Kandahar airport last week as militants ramped up attacks despite the onset of the harsh winter season, when the fighting usually calms down. The Taleban claimed responsibility for Friday's attack, saying the target was a foreign guest house.

The Spanish embassy was earlier reported to be the target of the attack, but Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy clarified that the assault took place near it and not on the compound.

"It was an attack against some guest houses very near the embassy," Mr Rajoy said, adding that all embassy staff had been evacuated .

The attack comes just days after President Ghani's high-profile visit to Pakistan, where he shored up international support to restart peace talks with the Taleban.

As he held talks in Islamabad on Wednesday, at least 50 people were killed in a long Taleban siege of Kandahar airport, the largest military installation in southern Afghanistan.

Eleven suicide attackers breached the high-security complex, which also houses a joint Nato-Afghan base, taking families hostage and triggering firefights with soldiers.

As the country grappled with the aftermath, Afghanistan's spy chief, Mr Rahmatullah Nabil, on Thursday quit his post, laying bare disagreements with Mr Ghani over his diplomatic outreach to Pakistan, which has long been blamed for nurturing the Taleban.

His resignation highlighted the domestic backlash Mr Ghani faces over his attempts to repair strained relations with Islamabad.

Mr Ghani shrugged off criticism on Friday, saying Pakistan had promised to go after Taleban factions that refuse to stand down.

"Without positive support from Pakistan, won't the war in Afghanistan keep dragging on?" Mr Ghani asked during a press conference on Friday. "The time has come for different Taleban factions to choose peace... The talks will start in the coming weeks."

But the Taleban rebuffed his remarks. "The mujahideen are making rapid military gains, capturing territory and destroying enemy centres," a Taleban spokesman wrote on Twitter. "Expecting us to surrender and come for talks is foolishness."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 13, 2015, with the headline '10 die in Taleban siege near embassy in Kabul'. Print Edition | Subscribe