Death toll in Afghan suicide attack hits 22

Six suicide bombers attacked a security meeting in one of Afghanistan's most secure provinces, killing 22 people and demonstrating the Taliban's ability to strike virtually anywhere in the country.

Assault on governor's security meeting sparks gunbattle

An Afghan policeman keeps watch after an attack at the compound of the governor of Parwan province in Charikar on Sunday after Taliban suicide bombers and gunmen killed at least 22 people during an attack. (Omar Sobhani/Reuters)

Six suicide bombers attacked a security meeting in one of Afghanistan's most secure provinces, killing 22 people and demonstrating the Taliban's ability to strike virtually anywhere in the country.

The governor of Parwan, a relatively peaceful eastern province about 50 kilometres north of Kabul, survived the attack. He said he picked up an assault rifle and shot at least one of the attackers dead.

Abdul Basir Salangi, Parwan's governor, said he shot and killed one of the attackers himself. (British Ministry of Defence/Reuters)
Two other insurgents detonated their vests, causing most of then deaths and burning part of the governor's offices. Several cars were wrecked and broken glass and body parts littered a charred lawn.

The bold daylight assault in Charikar follows a similar attack at a major Kabul hotel in June, and the downing of a U.S. helicopter full of U.S. special operations troops only 60 kilometres from Kabul.

And in recent months in nearby Kandahar, assassins have killed the provincial police chief, the province's top cleric, the mayor of the provincial capital and Ahmad Wali Karzai, the powerful half-brother of the Afghan president.

The attacks in and around the capital raise more questions about Afghanistan's ability to defend itself as the U.S.-led coalition hands more of the country over to its struggling forces.

NATO troops killed

Three service members were killed on Sunday in two separate improvised bomb attacks, NATO announced Sunday. The international coalition did not release any further details about the deaths.

The French Defence Ministry said one of its soldiers was killed Sunday by isolated fire during an operation in the northeast province of Kapisa.

The four deaths bring to 385 the number of coalition service members killed in Afghanistan this year, including 62 killed this month.

Police said Sunday's assault began outside the front gate, where a car bomber set off an explosion that smashed through a wall of the compound, allowing five other insurgents toting assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers to enter.

The attack interrupted a provincial security meeting attended by Parwan Gov. Abdul Basir Salangi, his police chief, intelligence director, a local army commander and at least two NATO advisers.

All the attackers wore suicide vests, and at least three of them were dressed as police officers, police said. Two attackers made it across a courtyard and detonated their vests inside the governor's headquarters building, but three others were killed before they could enter, police said.

Salangi told The Associated Press that he and his aides fired at insurgents from his offices. He claimed to have killed one of the attackers.

"I had an AK-47. I shot him from the window of my waiting room," said the former police chief of Kabul and a rebel fighter during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. He said it was the second time in the past month he was targeted by assassins.

Sixteen of those killed in the hour-long battle were civilian Afghan government employees

and six were policemen, according to the Afghan Interior Ministry. At least 37 other people were wounded.

The U.S.-led coalition plans to send 10,000 troops home by the end of the year and is considering whether to move forces from Taliban heartlands in the south to reinforce troops fighting insurgents in the east.

Southern provinces such as Kandahar and Helmand are the Taliban's traditional stronghold, while the east is a base of operations for many Pakistani-based Taliban and international terrorist affiliates such as al-Qaeda and the Haqqani network.

Afghanistan's eastern border with Pakistan is also a common thoroughfare for insurgents attempting to strike Kabul, although Parwan is considered to be one of the country's most secure areas.