KABUL — Taliban militants set off two suicide car bombs in an attack on the U.S. Consulate in western Afghanistan this morning, triggering a gunbattle with security forces that left at least two Afghans dead.The U.S. said all its personnel from the consulate in the city of Herat were safe and American forces later moved into the area to secure the site.
The attack underscored the perilous security situation in Afghanistan, where U.S.-led troops are reducing their presence ahead of a full withdrawal next year.
According to Afghan officials, the attack in Herat started with the Taliban setting off two bombs — one in an SUV and the other in an explosives-laden small van — while militants on foot opened a firefight with Afghan security forces around the compound in the city, 1,000 kilometers (625 miles) from Kabul.
It was not entirely clear whether any attackers managed to breach the facility, but at least two Afghans were killed and several were wounded, said an Afghan official. At least seven attackers were killed, including the two drivers of the car bombs.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi took responsibility for the attack in a phone call with The Associated Press.
Around the same time, a suicide bomber detonated his truck full of explosives near government offices in eastern Paktika province after security personnel opened fire at him. At least seven Afghan forces were wounded in the explosion, another Afghan official said.
Insurgent attacks in Afghanistan are no longer concentrated in the country’s south and east, but also occur with troubling frequency in the north and west, which have been the more peaceful areas in years past. Friday’s assaults came on the heels of two days of celebrations as Afghans of all backgrounds welcomed their nation’s first international soccer championship win.
Afghan and U.S. officials offered slightly different accounts of what happened in Herat, differences which could not immediately be reconciled as is common in the immediate aftermath of the attacks.
According to provincial officials, the attack began around 6 a.m. with a powerful explosion caused by the suicide car bombers, some 60 meters (66 yards) from the front gate of the consulate compound. Fellow militants then engaged in a firefight with security forces in the area.
U.S. State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement that the assault began around 5:30 a.m., when “a truck carrying attackers drove to the front gate, and attackers — possibly firing rocket propelled grenades and assault rifles — starting firing at Afghan forces and security guards on the exterior of the gates. Shortly after, the entire truck exploded, extensively damaging the front gate.”
Gen. Rahmatullah Safi, Herat province’s chief of police, said U.S. special forces entered the area to secure the compound, and that no attackers managed to breach it. Harf’s statement said “American security personnel” were among the response team, and added that “it appears American and contract security personnel addressed any attackers who managed to enter the compound.”
Footage broadcast on Afghanistan’s Tolo television network showed Afghan police dragging away a badly bloodied man from the scene, but it was unclear if he was dead or who he was. Rubble and twisted pieces of metal lay strewn in a seemingly wide area near the consulate, the footage showed.
Safi, chief of police in Herat province, initially said an Afghan translator who apparently worked for the consulate died in the attack, but later said that the victim was more likely a private security guard working at the compound. An Afghan police officer also was killed, while an unclear number of police, guards and civilians were wounded.
Safi said five militants were killed during the assault, as were the suicide car bombers, but the situation was under control around an hour after the start of the attack.
Robert Hilton, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, said “all consulate personnel are safe and accounted for.”
Herat lies near Afghanistan’s border with Iran and is considered one of the better developed cities in the country, with a strong Iranian influence. The U.S. consulate is located in a relatively sparsely populated part of the city, and the attack took place on Friday, a day of rest in the country.
Eastern Paktika province is much more troubled. It lies along the border with Pakistan and Taliban and al-Qaida affiliated militants are active in the region.
This morning’s truck bombing in Paktika occurred around 6:20 a.m. in the Sar Hawza district, said Mokhlis Afghan, a spokesman for the provincial governor. Police recognized the vehicle was dangerous and shouted at the driver to stop but he ignored them. Police then opened fire, and the bomber detonated the explosives, causing a powerful blast.
Four police were wounded as were three members of the Afghan national army, Afghan said. The road was badly damaged, and windows were shattered in nearby buildings
The attacks this morning were stark reminders of the challenges facing Afghanistan, in a sharp contrast to the two previous days of celebrations. On Wednesday and Thursday, Afghans celebrated the national soccer team’s 2-0 defeat of India in the South Asian Football Federation Championship.