PANJSHIR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Taliban suicide bombers, some dressed as police, killed a policeman in a rare attack on a governor’s compound in Afghanistan’s fiercely anti-Taliban Panjshir valley on Wednesday, a stark indication of their broadening reach.
The attack was the first of its kind in the Panjshir since October 2011. The Panjshir was an important rallying area for anti-Taliban forces that toppled the Islamist group’s government in late 2001.
Two attackers blew themselves up at the entrance of the fortified compound in the pre-dawn assault, which was followed by a 30-minute gun battle during which another three militants were shot dead, Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said.
A sixth escaped from the compound and reached a nearby village. He detonated the explosives-packed vest he was wearing when Afghan police found him there several hours later.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack on behalf of the militants.
A Reuters reporter who saw the bodies of the attackers near the governor’s compound said they were dressed in Afghan police uniforms. Smoke could be seen rising from scorched windows in the compound and bullet holes in the walls.
One Afghan National Police (ANP) officer was killed and another wounded. The provincial governor and police chief were in the compound but escaped unhurt.
Sediqqi praised the quick response by Afghan security forces to put down the attack, but the assault in one of the few remaining strongholds against the insurgency could still send an alarming sign of the Taliban’s reach at a critical time.
NATO-led forces in Afghanistan are accelerating the transfer of security responsibility to Afghan soldiers and police before most foreign combat troops leave by the end of next year, with questions often raised about the readiness of Afghan forces.
Picturesque Panjshir, famous for its jagged cliffs and deep valleys, was one of the first parts of the country considered safe enough for the NATO-led coalition to hand control to their Afghan counterparts two years ago.
The assault also came five days after Taliban militants launched a large, coordinated attack on a compound used by the United Nations’ International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in the capital Kabul, sparking a five-hour battle.
Taliban insurgents have stepped up their attacks against Afghan and foreign targets since they announced their “spring offensive” last month. (Reporting by Mirwais Harooni; Writing by Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Dylan Welch and Paul Tait)