Taliban militants yesterday unleashed car bombs at the US consulate in Afghanistan triggering a firefight with security forces in an attack that killed at least two Afghans and wounded 17.
The US said personnel from the consulate had been temporarily relocated to Kabul while American forces secured the site.
The attack in the city of Herat – along with a suicide truck bomb in the country’s east that wounded seven Afghans – raises concerns of spreading insecurity in Afghanistan as US-led troops reduce their presence ahead of full withdrawal next year.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said his organisation was responsible for the Herat attack.
General Rahmatullah Safi, Herat province’s chief of police, said the attack began in the early morning when militants set off two vehicles containing explosives.
An Afghan police officer and an Afghan security guard were killed. At least seven attackers were killed, including the two drivers of the explosives-laden vehicles, he said.
Herat hospital official Sayednaim Alemi said at least 17 people had been wounded, some seriously.
US state department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said: “A truck carrying attackers drove to the front gate, and attackers – possibly firing rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles – started firing at Afghan forces and security guards on the exterior of the gates. Shortly after, the entire truck exploded, extensively damaging the front gate.”
Robert Hilton, a spokesman for the US embassy in Kabul, said: “All consulate personnel are safe and accounted for.” He added that the staff have been temporarily relocated to the Afghan capital, but that some essential workers remain in Herat.
Footage broadcast on Afghanistan’s Tolo television network showed Afghan police dragging away a badly bloodied man from the scene. Rubble and twisted pieces of metal lay strewn in a seemingly wide area near the consulate, the footage showed.
The Afghan foreign ministry said the attack “illustrates both the desperation of the enemies of Afghanistan and their heinous, wanton disregard for the lives of Afghanistan’s peace- loving citizens.”
US ambassador to Kabul, James Cunningham, said: “We are deeply saddened by this senseless loss of life, and our prayers go out to the victims and their families. We hope for the speedy recovery of those injured.”
Herat lies near Afghanistan’s border with Iran and is considered one of the better-developed and safer cities in the country, with a strong Iranian influence.
Yesterday’s attack underscored the growing reach of the Taliban, who once mostly concentrated their attacks in the east and the south, but in recent years seem to be able to strike with more frequency in the once-peaceful north and west.
Last month, a botched bombing against the Indian consulate in the Afghan city of Jalalabad killed nine people, including six children. No Indian officials were hurt.
Two years ago to the day, insurgents fired rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles at the US embassy, Nato offices and other buildings in the Afghan capital, Kabul.