HEAVILY ARMED GUNMEN in suicide vests detonated a truck bomb outside the US consulate in the Afghan city of Herat, sparking a shootout with American forces early Friday, officials said.
US State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said there were no American casualties and the US embassy in Kabul confirmed on Twitter that all consulate staff were safe.
Afghan officials said at least one person had been killed and 18 others wounded.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that there were several casualties on the Afghan and US side but the militia is known to exaggerate its claims of deaths and injuries.
The front gate of the US consulate was “extensively” damaged, Harf told reporters.
An AFP reporter at the scene said one vehicle had been completely destroyed.
Four Afghan policemen were among the wounded, Herat hospital spokesman Mohammad Rafiq Sherzai said.
The US State Department said the attack started at 5:30 am when the gunmen, dressed in suicide vests, drove up to the front gate in a truck, opened fire and then detonated the truck bomb.
American and contracted security personnel reacted to the attack but the assault is over, Harf said.
“It appears American and contract security personnel addressed any attackers who managed to enter the compound,” she added, giving no further details.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi told AFP in a telephone call that the militia carried out the attack.
“Our mujahedeen, armed with heavy and light weapons, attacked the US consulate in Herat. There are several casualties to Afghan and US forces,” he said.
Herat, in western Afghanistan near the Iranian border, is considered one of the cities in Afghanistan least troubled by the 12-year Taliban insurgency.
US-led NATO troops who have supported the Afghan government against the Taliban are due to end their combat mission next year, after Afghanistan holds key presidential elections.
The Afghan government has called on the Taliban to engage in peace talks but the militia publicly refuses to deal with President Hamid Karzai, branding him a puppet of Washington.
The US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan on Tuesday dismissed suggestions that Washington would withdraw all troops from Afghanistan after next year.
Aides to US President Barack Obama earlier this year openly mulled the so-called “zero option” of a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan once US troops end their combat role in 2014.
“If they (the Afghans) don’t want anybody, we’re not going to stay. But I don’t think that’s an option the Afghans are likely to choose,” James Dobbins told the Atlantic Council think tank.
Dobbins said he expected “several thousand American forces and several thousand non-American NATO forces” in 2015 and beyond.
Roughly 100,000 foreign troops now serve in Afghanistan, two-thirds of them from the United States.
Obama has pledged to the war-weary US public to end the country’s longest-ever war, which was launched to fight Al-Qaeda and their Taliban allies after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
All images by Hoshang Hashimi/AP/PA.
- © AFP 2013.