Afghan par­lia­ment at­tack kills 2

Tal­iban mil­i­tants set off a bomb out­side be­fore be­ing slain. They have seized two key north­ern dis­tricts.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Ali M. Lat­ifi and Shashank Ben­gali shashank. ben­gali @ latimes. com Spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent Lat­ifi re­ported from Kabul and Times staff writer Ben­gali from Mum­bai, In­dia.

KABUL, Afghanistan — Mil­i­tants det­o­nated a bomb out­side the Afghan par­lia­ment on Mon­day and at­tempted to storm the build­ing be­fore be­ing struck down by se­cu­rity forces in a gun bat­tle that left two civil­ians dead and at least 40 peo­ple wounded.

The at­tack came as law­mak­ers in the com­plex were meet­ing to vote on the ap­point­ment of a new de­fense min­is­ter. Of­fi­cials evac­u­ated the build­ing as tele­vi­sion im­ages showed the par­lia­men­tary cham­ber f illing with smoke and dust. One law­maker was among the in­jured, ac­cord­ing to lo­cal news re­ports.

It was the latest high­pro­file at­tack for which Tal­iban in­sur­gents claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity. They have also cap­tured two dis­tricts in north­ern Afghanistan in re­cent days, part of a widen­ing of­fen­sive in a re­gion long re­garded as safely in gov­ern­ment hands.

Late Sun­day, Tal­iban spokesman Zabi­ul­lah Mu­jahid said the mil­i­tant group had seized Cha­har Dara dis­trict in the north­ern province of Kun­duz af­ter a day of f ight­ing that re­port­edly left 12 Afghan sol­diers dead and 16 wounded. On Mon­day, the head of Dasht- e Archi dis­trict, also in Kun­duz, said it too had fallen to the in­sur­gents, although of­fi­cials in Kabul, the Afghan cap­i­tal, did not im­me­di­ately com­ment on the re­ports.

Videos aired on lo­cal tele- vi­sion ap­peared to show Afghan se­cu­rity forces in Cha­har Dara com­plain­ing that they were over­matched by the Tal­iban mil­i­tants, who are said to be backed by a con­tin­gent of f ighters from the Is­lamic Move­ment of Uzbek­istan, a Cen­tral Asian mil­i­tant group that has long been ac­tive in Pak­istan.

“No re­in­force­ments came. We had to f lee,” one Afghan soldier said in the video. “This is [ Pres­i­dent] Ashraf Ghani; this is the gov­ern­ment?” The au­then­tic­ity of the video could not be in­de­pen­dently con­firmed.

Afghan of­fi­cials praised the se­cu­rity forces’ re­sponse to Mon­day’s at­tack on the par­lia­ment build­ing, which was the tar­get of a Tal­iban as­sault in 2012. Res­i­dents nearby said they heard at least f ive large ex­plo­sions, blasts from 20 grenades and gun­fire.

Sediq Sediqqi, spokesman for the In­te­rior Min­istry, said gun­men at­tempt­ing to en­ter the com­pound af­ter a car bomb­ing were pushed back by se­cu­rity forces and forced to take refuge in a nearby build­ing that was un­der con­struc­tion. Sol­diers and po­lice sur­rounded the struc­ture and en­gaged in a fire­fight with the as­sailants, even­tu­ally killing all seven, of­fi­cials said.

Of­fi­cials said the at­tack was over about two hours af­ter it be­gan, and the area was cor­doned off by Afghan forces.

A woman and a child were killed, the United Na­tions mis­sion in Afghanistan said. A law­maker from Kun­duz, Fatema Aziz, suf­fered in­juries and told the Tolo news net­work that the as­sault must have been timed to co­in­cide with the vote on the de­fense min­is­ter.

“Tar­get­ing the par­lia­ment is an at­tack on the [ Afghan] peo­ple, and our he­roes in the se­cu­rity forces are com­mit­ted to kill ter­ror­ists and se­cure the na­tion,” Ab­dul­lah Ab­dul­lah, chief ex­ec­u­tive in Afghanistan’s unity gov­ern­ment, said in a state­ment. “I con­grat­u­late the Afghan se­cu­rity forces for their brav­ery and pro­fes­sion­al­ism shown to­day to kill all in­sur­gents within an hour.”

Else­where in Afghanistan, how­ever, the U. S.trained se­cu­rity forces have come un­der sus­tained at­tacks by in­sur­gents and are suf­fer­ing ca­su­al­ties at a record- high rate, ac­cord­ing to news re­ports and an­a­lysts. Although U. S. and Afghan of­fi­cials have re­fused to pub­licly dis­close the ca­su­alty f ig­ures, they ac­knowl­edge that f ight­ing has in­creased this year since U. S.led in­ter­na­tional forces scaled back their mis­sion in De­cem­ber to fo­cus on train­ing and ad­vis­ing Afghan troops.

“The Afghan Na­tional Se­cu­rity Forces have been un­de­ni­ably stretched as they take on full se­cu­rity re­spon­si­bil­i­ties,” Ni­cholas Haysom, the rank­ing U. N. of­fi­cial in Afghanistan, told the U. N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil on Mon­day. “We have seen an in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion of conf lict across the coun­try, in­clud­ing in ar­eas pre­vi­ously con­sid­ered to be safe.”

Tal­iban mil­i­tants have been tar­get­ing Kun­duz since they launched their an­nual spring of­fen­sive in late April. The seizure of Cha­har Dara was par­tic­u­larly alarm­ing to gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials be­cause the dis­trict lies just a few miles from the pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal, also called Kun­duz, which is Afghanistan’s fifth­largest city with more than 300,000 res­i­dents.

“If you can get to Cha­har Dara, you are ba­si­cally at the doorstep of Kun­duz city,” Mah­boubul­lah Mah­boub, a mem­ber of the pro­vin­cial coun­cil, said in a phone in­ter­view.

In some ar­eas, the south­west­ern dis­trict and pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal are only 2 1⁄2 miles apart.

The f ight­ing in Kun­duz comes months af­ter Ghani and Ab­dul­lah said the gov­ern­ment was closer to peace than it had been in more than three decades of on­go­ing conf lict. Ghani’s gov­ern­ment has started ten­ta­tive ef­forts to en­gage Tal­iban lead­ers in peace talks abroad, but there has been lit­tle progress as the vi­o­lence in­creases.

The Tal­iban of­fen­sive has wors­ened the eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion in Kun­duz, one of the ma­jor transit hubs be­tween Afghanistan and the Cen­tral Asian na­tions of Ta­jik­istan and Uzbek­istan.

Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Dis­as­ter Man­age­ment Au­thor­ity, more than 18,500 fam­i­lies have been dis­placed.

“Those who could re­turn, even brief ly, came back to see their houses de­stroyed in the f ight­ing,” said Mah­boubul­lah Saeedi, a leader in the province’s Ali­abad dis­trict.

Gov­ern­ment se­cu­rity re­ports es­ti­mate that more than 3,200 Tal­iban and al­lied f ighters are in­volved in the f ight for Kun­duz, ac­cord­ing to an of­fi­cial who re­quested anonymity be­cause he was not au­tho­rized to speak to the media.

Ah­mad Massoud Zuma Press

TROOPS gather out­side the Afghan par­lia­ment in Kabul af­ter the at­tack, which came dur­ing a meet­ing to vote on a new de­fense min­is­ter.

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