Afghan forces besiege insurgents near Indian consulate in Mazar

04 Jan, 2016 3:21 pm

MAZAR-I-SHARIF, AFGHANISTAN – Afghan special forces fought with insurgents barricaded in a house near the Indian consulate in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif on Monday after an overnight attack that coincided with an assault on an Indian air base near the border with Pakistan.

As the battle stretched into the afternoon, soldiers entered the building, a large structure formerly used as an office by U.S. development agency USAID, where between four and six attackers had locked themselves inside a safe room.

The attack began late on Sunday after gunmen tried unsuccessfully to break into the consulate, taking advantage of the fact that many people were watching the final of a football championship between Afghanistan and India.

After a heavy exchange of fire that went on until well into the night, security forces suspended operations before resuming in the morning, firing rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns at the building.

“The area is sealed off and we are proceeding cautiously and making all possible efforts to protect the lives of those in the area. The attackers will be killed,” the provincial governor, Atta Mohammad Noor, said on his Facebook page.

Gunfire rang out as a helicopters circled overhead in a residential area of the city, in Balkh province, bordering Uzbekistan.

At least four civilians and six security force personnel were wounded but the Indian ambassador said all the consulate staff were safe. There was no confirmation of any killed or wounded among the attackers.

Noor blamed “enemies of peace and stability” for the attack, which came amid renewed efforts to lower tension between India and its rival Pakistan and restart peace talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

But there was no more concrete indication of who may have been responsible.

Meanwhile, a suicide bomber in a car blew himself up close to a police checkpoint near Kabul airport on Monday but caused no other casualties, a police spokesman said.

The bomber was spotted by police as his car approached the checkpoint, prompting him to detonate his explosives, the spokesman said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

The blast follows a series of attacks in the Afghan capital over recent days, including a suicide attack on a restaurant popular with foreigners and wealthy Afghans which killed a 12 year-old boy and a security guard.

The attacks have coincided with a new effort to restart peace talks with the Taliban after earlier meetings were broken off last July. –Reuters

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