KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Six suicide bombers stormed a USAID compound in northern Afghanistan before dawn Friday, killing at least four people and wounding several others, officials said. At least two of the dead were foreigners.
The brazen attack came on the same day that Gen. David Petraeus landed in the Afghan capital to take command of U.S. and international forces fighting the nearly 9-year-old war. Petraeus arrived from Brussels where he sought to reassure allies that the war against the Taliban was on track despite rising casualties and problems regaining control over key parts of the country.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which began about 3:30 a.m. in Kunduz when a suicide car bomber blew a hole in the wall around a building used by Development Alternatives Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based global consulting company on contract with the United States Agency for International Aid, or USAID. The company is working on governance and community development in the area.
At least five other attackers then ran inside the building, killing or wounding security guards and others inside before dying in a gunbattle with Afghan security forces who raced to the scene. Afghan authorities said the five were all wearing explosive vests.
Black smoke poured from the windows of the four-story building. The bodies of the victims were found inside amid rubble, pools of blood and broken glass. Stunned aid workers were led from the scene as NATO troops carried bodies wrapped in black plastic out on stretchers.
Gen. Abdul Razaq Yaqoubi, police chief in Kunduz province, said those killed included an Afghan policeman, an Afghan man who worked as a security guard at the house and two foreigners. The German Foreign Ministry told The Associated Press in Berlin that a German citizen was killed in the attack. Britain’s foreign ministry said one British national was killed and the other was critically wounded in the attack.
"It was 3 o’clock in the morning, close to the morning prayer time, when a suicide bomber in a 4×4 vehicle exploded his vehicle," Yaqoubi said as Afghan national security forces were battling to kill the last surviving attacker. "There is no way for him to escape."
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told The Associated Press in Kabul that six suicide bombers attacked a "training center" for Afghan security forces in Kunduz and killed 55 foreigners. The Taliban often exaggerate their claims.
The attack appeared part of a Taliban campaign against development projects at a time when the U.S. and its allies are trying to bolster civilian programs to shore up the Afghan government. On Wednesday, militants rocketed a base for South Korean construction workers in Parwan province but caused no casualties.
In April, a gunman killed an 18-year-old woman working for Development Alternatives as she left her job in the southern city of Kandahar. Police believed the killing was part of a Taliban campaign against Afghans working for foreign development organizations.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack and called on government authorities to investigate and prosecute those responsible.
He said the militants were trying to impede reconstruction in Afghanistan. "They don’t want the people of Afghanistan to have a prosperous life," he said in a statement.
The U.S. also condemned the attack, calling it a cowardly assault on civilians working to improve conditions in the nation.
"This is another tragic reminder of the life-threatening circumstances that our Afghan and international partners face every day as they work side by side with the Afghan government and its people to improve conditions in the country for a better future," said a statement issued by USAID and the U.S. Embassy.
Violence is rising in Afghanistan, and concern is growing in Washington and other allied capitals over the direction of the war. The 120,000-member NATO-led force is awaiting the arrival of a new commander, Gen. David Petraeus, who has warned of hard fighting this summer.
Separately, NATO on Friday reported the deaths of two coalition service members. One was an American who died Friday in an insurgent attack in eastern Afghanistan. The other was a Royal Marine who died Thursday in southern Afghanistan, according to Britain’s Ministry of Defense.
Also in the south, NATO said insurgents used a suicide car bomb to attack a coalition outpost Friday west of Kandahar city. At least one Afghan civilian was killed and others were injured, including a child, NATO said.
Zelmai Ayubi, a spokesman for the provincial governor of Kandahar, said the suicide car bomber blew himself up near the entrance to the outpost. He said two Afghan soldiers were injured in the attack.
Kandahar police Chief Sher Mohammed Zazai said the bodies of two men who had been beheaded were found Thursday in a field in Panjway district, west of Kandahar. He said the two men had been taken by the Taliban a few days earlier, but it was unclear why they were targeted.