Four Dead As Taliban Hold Out In Afghan City

The death toll from a wave of Taliban attacks on government buildings in the key Afghan city of Kandahar has risen to four as militants held out into a second day, officials said Sunday. Violence in the city, seen as the Taliban's birthplace, broke out on Saturday at around 1:00 pm (0830 GMT) when militants with guns and rocket-propelled grenades attacked the governor's office from nearby buildings.

The violence in the Taliban's birthplace started Saturday at around 1:00 pm (AFP, Manan Vatsyayana)

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — The death toll from a wave of Taliban attacks on government buildings in the key Afghan city of Kandahar has risen to four as militants held out into a second day, officials said Sunday.

Violence in the city, seen as the Taliban's birthplace, broke out on Saturday at around 1:00 pm (0830 GMT) when militants with guns and rocket-propelled grenades attacked the governor's office from nearby buildings.

It spread to sites including the local offices of the intelligence service and several police offices as a total of ten explosions including six suicide blasts rocked the city.

Nearly 50 people have been wounded in the standoff, the first major incident since the Taliban announced the start of its annual spring offensive just over a week ago.

Although the attacks died down overnight, Taliban fighters were on Sunday still occupying one traffic police building, firing shots and rockets.

"It is a complicated building, that is why it has taken a while to clear up but soon we will clear the building of the enemy," said Kandahar border police commander General Abdul Razeq, in charge of the operation.

The building is also close to the local office of the Afghan intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security (NDS).

The city's streets were virtually empty of people Sunday, an AFP reporter said, and roads into the city have been blocked off.

A doctor at Kandahar's main hospital, Mohammad Hashim, gave the number killed in the violence as four, including two civilians and two members of the Afghan security forces.

"We have registered a total of 46 wounded so far. 24 of the wounded are security personnel and the rest are civilians," he said. "We have also registered four dead -- two civilians and two security personnel."

Hashim added that the death toll had risen from two on Saturday.

A total of 12 insurgents were killed in the fighting and seven have been captured, a statement from the defence ministry in Kabul said Sunday.

The attacks are the first major incident since the Taliban unveiled the start of its annual spring offensive (AFP/File, Bay Ismoyo)

Although Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Saturday the violence was "revenge" for this week's killing of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by US forces in Pakistan, the Taliban said the operation was planned several weeks ahead.

A spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) whose troops were involved in the operation, Major General James Laster, described it as a "spring offensive spectacular attack which was thwarted".

There are around 130,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, two-thirds of them from the United States, battling the Taliban and other insurgents in a war which has lasted nearly ten years.

Limited withdrawals from seven relatively peaceful areas are due to start in July ahead of the planned end of foreign combat operations in 2014.

International forces say that Kandahar and the surrounding area are now safer following months of intense fighting last year to clear traditional Taliban strongholds.

But government officials and institutions are still frequently targeted by militants in the city, the biggest in Afghanistan's restive south.

Nearly 500 Taliban prisoners escaped from Kandahar's prison last month through a huge tunnel in a major embarrassment for the authorities.

Also in April, Kandahar's police chief was killed by an attacker in a police uniform, while in January Wesa's deputy was assassinated.

AP