KABUL — The Taliban staged its first high-profile attack since declaring the start of the spring fighting season, opening fire on government buildings in the southern city of Kandahar on Saturday, according to Afghan officials.
At least one person was killed and 29 wounded in the assault, which began about noon, and sporadic gunfire could be heard for hours. Among the targets were the office of the provincial governor, the mayor’s office and the intelligence agency headquarters.
The Taliban asserted responsibility for the violence and said “hundreds” of men were involved in the fighting.
The U.S.-led coalition said that Afghan security forces thwarted the attacks, which included three to six suicide bombers, and that insurgents failed to penetrate any of the government compounds. The attackers also targeted the Afghan national chief of police headquarters, the transportation police headquarters, a police substation and other Afghan and coalition sites in the city and in neighboring Arghandab River valley.
The fate of Kandahar, southern Afghanistan’s largest city and the birthplace of the Taliban, will be a key benchmark this spring and summer for the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan. U.S. and NATO troops have made securing the city a top priority, and military commanders have claimed significant progress in pushing the insurgents out of their former strongholds in the area.
The Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, said in a telephone interview that the operation also served as payback for the killing of Osama bin Laden. The group had said in a statement a day earlier that bin Laden’s death “will give a new impetus” to its fight.
“Revenge is the plan,” Ahmadi said. “We have surrounded most of the government and foreigners’ facilities.”
President Hamid Karzai also attributed the violence in part to bin Laden’s death, saying the insurgents were trying to hide their defeat by attacking civilians. “They are trying to get their revenge from innocent Afghan people,” Karzai said in a statement.
The attack started with gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades fired at the office and residence of Kandahar’s governor, Toryalai Wesa, a downtown compound where U.S. troops and civilians also work. Gunmen fired down from a nearby commercial building, according to residents. The insurgents also fought from the Kandahar Hotel, firing at the office of Afghanistan’s intelligence agency. At least one police station also came under attack, officials said.
The governor’s spokesman, Zalmay Ayoubi, said 10 of the wounded were police.
A border police commander, Gen. Abdul Razziq, said he sent his men to the governor’s house when the attack began. When they arrived, they clashed with insurgents and two suicide bombers detonated their explosives, he said.
The attack on the intelligence agency office was still going on six hours after the fighting started, he said, adding that at least two other major explosions had occurred.
Hamdard is a special correspondent.