World News

Militants Kill 15 in Afghan Attacks as Taliban Expands Its Control

Posted May 9, 2018 2:46 p.m. EDT
Updated May 9, 2018 2:48 p.m. EDT

KABUL, Afghanistan — Insurgents killed at least 15 people in three separate attacks in Afghanistan on Wednesday, and six policemen died in an airstrike for which officials blamed the U.S. military, illustrating the precarious security situation in a country wracked by years of fighting.

The attacks came a day after two rural northern districts fell to the Taliban, expanding the territory controlled by that militant group.

Gunmen and suicide bombers launched what appeared to be simultaneous assaults in the capital, Kabul — one close to the offices of the Asian Development Bank, in the downtown Shar-e Naw neighborhood, and the other in the western part of the city at a police headquarters. Those attacks killed at least seven people and wounded 17 others, according to Wahidullah Majroh, the spokesman for the Afghan Public Health Ministry.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack on the Kabul police station and a spokesman for the Taliban said it had carried out the strike near the Asian Development Bank. The Taliban and the Islamic State are deadly enemies of the government — and of each other.

In an unusual public statement, the National Directorate for Security, the Afghan intelligence agency, blamed the Haqqani network, a guerrilla group linked to the Taliban, for both attacks.

In the Shar-e Naw attack, a suicide bomber and four gunmen attempted to enter the compound housing the bank —a multinational donor agency that provides critical funds for the Afghan government, but were repulsed by guards, according to official accounts. The fighters then climbed an adjacent tall building that was under construction, according to a local police commander, and continued their attack from there.

The gunbattle there lasted all afternoon and was still underway by evening, police said.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, told a group on the WhatsApp messaging service that the attack had been aimed at the Afghan intelligence agency, near the bank.

Sayed Masood Alam, an employee of Asian Development Bank in Kabul, was reached by telephone inside its building.

“We are all in safe room. The fighting is close to us. I don’t know about my colleagues who are outside, and I cannot talk more,” he said.

In western Kabul, in a largely Hazara neighborhood known as Dasht-e-Barchi that has suffered numerous recent suicide bombings, gunmen and a suicide bomber struck near the local police headquarters. But it was unclear whether security forces were the intended target, or two nearby wedding halls, a security official at the scene said.

Residents were so incensed by the attack that many of them armed themselves and had to be restrained by police officers from going after the attackers. “As you know it is not the first time that Dasht-e-Barchi has been attacked and it is not the last time either,” said Hassan Qurbanzada, an armed man who said he responded to the attack along with several friends. “We decided to defend ourselves. Our life isn’t important to the Afghan government.”

Qurbanzada said he and his armed friends killed one of the attackers outside the police district headquarters, after police officers fled the attack.

“We’re tired of these attacks, and we don’t want to just be witnesses any longer,” he said.

Recent attacks in that area targeted polling places, killing 14 people this month, and more than 50 others two weeks earlier.

More than 300 miles to the west, in Badghis province, the Taliban killed eight policemen, according to Abdul Basat Sarem, a member of the provincial council. The insurgents attacked a police base that had been established to guard a voter registration center; many such centers have been attacked.

Also in Badghis, local authorities reported that an airstrike, which they attributed to U.S. forces, killed six policemen. A U.S. military spokesman said the episode was under investigation.

“According to the Afghan National Army Corps and Afghan National Police Zone commander and a National Directorate of Security chief, the six individuals killed in a strike in Badghis province are recorded as Afghan Local Police,” said Lt. Col. Martin L. O’Donnell, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. “However, their location, dress in civilian clothes and actions towards an Afghan National Defense and Security Force patrol indicate a possible connection with the enemies of Afghanistan. The local government and intelligence delegation is conducting an investigation and will release the results once complete.”

In northern Afghanistan the Taliban seized control of two districts Tuesday, local and national officials said, bringing to 15 the number of Afghanistan’s 407 districts under insurgent control, based on figures from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, a U.S. government watchdog agency. In addition, the agency said, another 46 districts are under insurgent influence.

About 65 percent of Afghans live in areas under government control or influence, while the rest live in areas under insurgent control or influence. In Faryab province, the center of Bal Chiragh district and the area’s government buildings fell to a Taliban attack Tuesday night, according to Jamil Sediqi, the governor of that district. The rest of the area had already been under Taliban control.

In Baghlan province, the Taliban took Tala Wa Barfak, which has long been the object of heavy fighting, according to Zabihullah Shoja, a spokesman for the provincial police department. The district had previously fallen to Taliban control in 2015 but the government later retook it. It is a strategic area, lying on a main east-west highway linking the central Afghan province of Bamian to the rest of the country.

Interior Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak confirmed that the two districts had fallen to the Taliban but vowed to retake them. He blamed lack of sufficient air support for the loss.

“We accept that two districts fell but we also have our concerns and need to act responsibly,” he said. “If we want to act, we need to be able to provide air support. For example, we did our best to provide air support for Tala Wa Barfak district but unfortunately we couldn’t do anything.”

Officials did not immediately have any report on casualties in the takeover of the two districts.

Abdul Wares, the district governor, confirmed that an airstrike had killed the police officers but did not say who carried it out.