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At least 19 killed as insurgents launch attacks in southern Afghanistan

By Sayed Salahuddin,

KABUL — Equipped with suicide vests, hand grenades and guns, suspected Taliban fighters launched commando-style assaults on Afghan government buildings Thursday in the southern province of Uruzgan, resulting in at least 19 deaths, the provincial health chief said.

The raids targeted the governor’s compound, a police base and a television station in the provincial capital, Tarin Kot, and followed a gun battle between the assailants and Afghan forces, officials said. The scale of the attacks prompted local authorities to call on NATO-led forces in the province to use air power in defeating the assailants, said a spokesman for the Interior Ministry in Kabul.

“Nineteen dead people, including civilians and police, have been brought to a hospital,” Khan Agha Miakhel, the public health chief of Uruzgan, said by telephone. He said that at least 35 people were wounded. It was not clear whether all of the 19 deaths occurred in the attacks or whether some may have been due to NATO airstrikes.

The BBC said its Afghan reporter in the province, Ahmed Omed Khpulwak, was among those killed in the fighting. Khpulwak, 25, was in the local radio and television building when it came under attack, Peter Horrocks, director of BBC Global News, said in a statement.

One of the suicide bombers detonated his explosives outside the provincial governor’s headquarters, while at least three blasts were heard elsewhere in the town, said Ahmad Milad, a spokesman for the governor.

The Interior Ministry spokesman, Sediq Sediqi, said the gun battle lasted at least four hours. A spokesman for the Taliban asserted responsibility for the strikes.

The attacks Thursday follow a spate of assassinations of senior Afghan civilian and military officials in recent months across the country. On Wednesday, a suicide bomber killed the mayor of Kandahar at his office in the city, the capital of the province bordering Uruzgan.

Having apparently lost the ability to confront hundreds of thousands of Afghan and U.S.-led NATO forces in face-to-face battle in recent years, the Taliban this year has changed its tactics to include targeting government buildings in commando-style raids and stepping up assassinations of officials.

Ahmed Wali Karzai, a half brother of President Hamid Karzai and his mainstay for political and tribal support in the south was killed more than two weeks ago, and violence has spread to some areas that had been regarded as secure in recent years.

Elsewhere in Afghanistan on Thursday, eight Afghan troops were killed in insurgent attacks, the Defense Ministry said. And the president’s office said French troops serving under NATO’s command killed a pregnant woman and two other civilians traveling in a car Wednesday in Kapisa province, northeast of Kabul.

Amid a military stalemate on the battlefield, rising casualties, high war costs and growing domestic pressure, all Western troops are expected to leave Afghanistan by 2014. The resurgent Taliban, toppled by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in 2001, is apparently unwilling to join a negotiated settlement to the conflict unless all foreign forces withdraw, although there have been several contacts involving the Taliban, U.S. officials and the Afghan government.

Many Afghans fear that if foreign troops pull out without stabilizing the country, there could be a reprise of the bloody civil war that erupted after the withdrawal of Soviet occupation forces in 1989.

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