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Gunmen attack Afghan Interior Ministry; Taliban commanders reported killed

Gunmen armed with assault rifles and grenade launchers stormed the Afghan Interior Ministry on May 30, battling security forces for more than two hours. (Video: Reuters)

KABUL — Gunmen wearing military uniforms and suicide vests stormed the heavily fortified Afghan Interior Ministry compound Wednesday, killing at least one police officer during a battle that lasted more than two hours, officials said.

A spokesman for the ministry, Najib Danesh, said eight suicide bombers were involved in the attack, which began with a car bombing outside the compound. As in such attacks in the past, the blast paved the way for the other attackers to get inside the vast compound, which serves as the headquarters of the national police.

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Separately, the U.S. military said Wednesday that more than 50 senior Taliban commanders were killed when an artillery rocket system struck a meeting in the Musa Qala district of Helmand province in southern Afghanistan on May 24. The gathering of commanders from several provinces was reportedly a planning session related to the insurgents’ annual spring offensive, which was launched last month.

U.S. Air Force Central Command released aerial footage of a May 24 artillery rocket strike that reportedly killed more than 50 senior Taliban commanders. (Video: US Air Force Central Command)

The Taliban denied the U.S. military’s account, calling it “propaganda” and claiming that the strike hit two civilian houses, resulting in the deaths of five civilians.

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In Kabul, the gunmen who attacked the Interior Ministry were shot dead by police or died when they detonated their explosives, Danesh said.

In addition to the one police officer killed, he said, five were wounded. However, a police officer who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to the media said the toll was higher than reported.

Witnesses said the assailants arrived in an SUV, a type of vehicle used mostly by Afghan authorities and U.S.-led troops in the country.

No group immediately asserted responsibility for the assault, which occurred three weeks after a group of Taliban fighters and sympathizers of the Islamic State separately staged two complex attacks on two police stations in Kabul.

Wednesday’s attack came hours after Taliban suicide bombers stormed a police station in Logar province south of Kabul, where three officers were killed.

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Violence has sharply increased in recent weeks since the Taliban, which leads the insurgency against the Afghan government and U.S.-led troops, announced its spring offensive. The Taliban has stepped up the fighting despite a surge of U.S. military activity as part of Washington’s new war strategy set in motion last summer.

Hundreds of Afghan forces have been killed in the Taliban attacks, raising further questions about the viability of holding long-delayed parliamentary and provincial council elections slated for October ahead of next year’s presidential vote.

William Branigin in Washington contributed to this report.

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