KABUL, Afghanistan: At least four people have been killed in an armed attack at the residence of the Afghan defence minister.
Bismillah Khan Mohammadi was not at home as the gunmen detonated a car bomb and fired shots near Kabul’s heavily fortified Green Zone. His family was safely evacuated and the attackers killed.
The attack came as fighting raged in other key Afghan cities. The UN Security Council has called for an immediate end to the violence.
Security officials told the AFP news agency that four people had been killed in the attack, while Italian medical charity Emergency confirmed that 11 people who had been wounded had been brought to its facilities in Kabul, along with the bodies of four people who died. “Do not worry, everything is fine!” Mohammadi tweeted after the attack.
The US State Department said the attack bore “all the hallmarks” of a Taliban attack.
Hours after the attack, crowds of Kabul residents took to the streets and rooftops on Tuesday evening to shout Allahu Akbar (God is greatest) in defiance of Taliban attacks, with videos shared on social media.
Similar scenes were recorded on Monday in the city of Herat, which has also seen heavy fighting in recent days.
Fierce fighting between militants and government forces has continued in the city in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, with the UN saying on Tuesday that at least 40 civilians had been killed in Lashkar Gah in the past day.
“There are corpses on the roads. We do not know if they are civilians or the Taliban,” one local said.
“Dozens of families have fled their homes and settled near the Helmand River.”
The Afghan army urged civilians to leave the city ahead of a major offensive against the Taliban. Fighting has been continuing in the city for days, with the militants now reportedly in control of most districts.
The United Nations and other agencies are warning of a worsening humanitarian crisis.
Interior Ministry spokesman Mirwais Stanekzai said gunmen entered the area after the first explosion.
Stanekzai said three attackers were killed by security personnel and a clean-up operation was being conducted by police.
All roads leading to the minister’s house and guesthouse were closed, he added.
Less than two hours after the car bomb detonated, another loud blast followed by rapid gunfire again shook Kabul, in what appeared to be the same area of the city.
Hundreds of residents in the area were moved to safety, said Ferdaws Faramarz, spokesman for the Kabul police chief. He said security personnel were searching house to house should more attackers be hiding in the area.
At least 10 people were wounded and were taken to hospitals in the capital, Dastgir Nazari, Health Ministry spokesman, said.
The city’s Emergency Hospital said in a tweet it had so far received six people wounded in the first attack.
Capturing Lashkar Gah, the besieged capital of Helmand province, would be of huge symbolic value to the insurgents as they continue their rapid advance after the pullout of foreign forces. Helmand was the centrepiece of the US and British military campaigns.
At the weekend, Attaullah Afghan, the head of Helmand provincial council, admitted that fighting seemed to be “getting out of our control”.
The Taliban have made further advances this week, despite Afghan and US warplanes targeting the insurgents.
There are reports that Taliban fighters have taken positions inside homes, shops and the bazaar – people are trapped in their homes while the fighting goes on in the streets.
The militants generally warn people via loudspeaker to leave but sometimes they enter houses – locals have just minutes to flee or risk being caught in the crossfire as their homes become part of the battlefield.
Elsewhere in the south, the Taliban are trying to capture Kandahar, their former stronghold, and clashes have also intensified in the western city of Herat.