2 Taliban killed after gunbattle in Afghan provincial capital
Militants storm market with dozens of civilians
KABUL, Afghanistan - Police fought a three-hour gunbattle in the center of an Afghan provincial capital yesterday, finally killing at least two Taliban militants who stormed a multistory market with dozens of civilians inside, an official said.
During the shootout, terrified shopkeepers shuttered their doors and residents stayed inside for fear of being caught in the crossfire as army and police rushed to the scene, reportedly backed up by NATO forces. Three civilians and one police officer were wounded in the fighting in the eastern province of Paktia, said the deputy provincial police chief.
Video from the scene after the operation showed a man holding what appeared to be a not yet detonated suicide vest, but reports differed on how many attackers there were and whether they were wearing explosives.
The violence comes as Afghanistan prepares for a surge of new foreign troops in the next few months to help the weak central government defeat a resurgent Taliban that has taken over vast swaths of the countryside.
The Taliban controls most of Paktia province, which borders Pakistan, and the strengthening insurgency has previously launched assaults on the provincial capital, Gardez, about 60 miles south of Kabul.
Shortly after yesterday’s assault began, officials said that five militants armed with guns and suicide vests had stormed the building near the provincial police headquarters in Gardez and that at least three had been killed.
But Ghulam Dastagir, Paktia’s deputy police chief, said by telephone that there were only two attackers armed with assault rifles, a machine gun and about 40 rifle-launched grenades.
He said no suicide vests were found when police finally killed the militants and searched the building. A separate statement later from the national Interior Ministry, however, said the attackers were wearing vests filled with explosives.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said there were five attackers, all wearing suicide vests.
Shops throughout the city were closed as residents hunkered down in their houses to wait out the fighting. University student Jumakhan, who like many Afghans goes by one name, said he saw the fighting start and ran behind a nearby building. He said he could see NATO forces in the streets, along with Afghan army and police.
Dastagir said the attackers were on the top floor of a four-story building housing a supermarket and shops, about 165 yards from the police headquarters. The floor itself was under construction, but there were about 50 civilians in the building when the fighting broke out, forcing police to conduct the operation carefully, he said.
There was no immediate word on the condition of the three civilians and police officer who were wounded, he said.
The most recent major insurgent attack on Gardez was in July, when militants launched nearly simultaneous attacks on security facilities, killing three police and three intelligence officers.
Also yesterday, the Defense Ministry said 24 militants were killed in operations the day before. The ministry said eight insurgents were killed in southern Helmand province, six in Ghazni in the east, seven in northern Kunduz province, two in Kandahar province in the south, and one in Wardak, west of Kabul.