Taliban bomb and gun attacks on an official’s compound and a militia base in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan killed 21 people on Thursday, including a local BBC reporter.
Five hours of fighting were triggered after insurgents detonated a car bomb outside the deputy provincial governor’s compound close to the main hospital in Trinkot, Uruzgan’s capital, a provincial government spokesman told AFP.
Gunmen also attacked the nearby base of a militia commander who provides security to NATO convoys. The assault was launched from a radio and television office where 25-year-old BBC reporter Ahmed Omed Khpulwak was killed.
The interior ministry said seven suicide attackers had attacked different locations in Trinkot and a motorcyle bomb was remotely detonated outside the police headquarters.
It was the deadliest attack to hit Afghanistan in more than a month and comes at a critical juncture in the nearly 10-year war as thousands of US surge troops prepare to go home and other Western nations announce limited drawdowns.
All foreign combat forces are due to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and last week a first set of security handovers from NATO to Afghan forces took place in seven parts of the country.
“As a result of these savage attacks of the enemies of Afghanistan, 21 people including three policemen were martyred, and 38 others including three police were injured,” the Afghan interior ministry said in a statement.
Provincial government spokesman Milad Modaser said fighting ended five hours after the attack began at noon.
“The fighting is over, security forces have entered the last building (the governor’s office) and a clearance operation is underway,” he said.
Mr. Modaser said gunmen raided the Uruzgan radio and television station and from there attacked the base of Matiulllah Khan, a well-known militia commander whose fighters protect NATO convoys on the highway from Uruzgan to Kandahar city.
An army spokesman in the southern region, Hekmatullah Kuchi, said one of the blasts at the deputy governor’s office was caused by a suicide bomber, and a second was caused by an Afghan soldier shooting another suicide attacker.
NATO’s International Security Assistance Force sent reinforcements to the scene, including helicopters, to assist in quelling the assault.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi told AFP that the attackers were from the insurgent group, but denied killing the reporter, saying the police were responsible for his death.
“Seven of our volunteers have attacked the deputy governor’s office and Matiullah’s base,” said Ahmadi.
The BBC in London confirmed that Khpulwak, who joined the corporation in 2008, had been killed.
“The sympathies of the BBC and all of his colleagues go to Ahmed Omed’s family and friends,” BBC Global News director Peter Horrocks said. “Only this morning he was reporting on BBC Pashto.
“The BBC and the whole world are grateful to journalists like Ahmed Omed who courageously put their lives on the line to report from dangerous places.”
Matiullah Khan, the militia leader targeted on Thursday, told AFP that the insurgents had attacked just outside his base, launching the assault from the neighbouring television station building.
He said two of his men had been wounded.
“I’m sitting right here in my base. I’m fine and healthy,” said Khan during the fighting.
Mr. Khan commands around 2,000 fighters in Uruzgan after taking over the militia from his uncle Jan Mohammad Khan, who was governor of the province until he was forced out over alleged ties to the drugs trade.
Jan Mohammad Khan, a close ally of President Hamid Karzai, was killed in a gun attack on his Kabul home nearly two weeks ago, five days after the president’s half-brother was shot dead in Kandahar.