Attempt by suicide bombers in army uniforms to free Taliban prisoners leaves at least 55 dead in western Farah town.
Suicide bombers disguised as soldiers have stormed an court in western Afghanistan, killing at least 46 people in an attempt to free Taliban fighters standing trial, officials say.
At least nine fighters were also killed in Wednesday’s attack, which occurred in Farah, the main town of Farah province.
It was not immediately clear whether the accused men had escaped the court complex, although a hospital doctor said one prisoner was among those being treated for injuries.
“In total, 34 civilians and 12 [Afghan] security forces have been killed in the attack. We have also discovered the bodies of eight attackers, more than 100 people have also been injured.”
The multiple bomb-and-gun assault will raise further questions about the Afghans’ ability to secure the country as NATO reduces its combat mission by the end of next year.
Wednesday’s death toll was the highest in Afghanistan from a single attack since a Shia Muslim shrine was bombed in Kabul in December 2011, killing 80 people.
|From the perspective of one neighbourhood in Herat|
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the Farah attack.
“Our fighters attacked several government buildings in Farah according to their planned tactic. They conducted the attack with small arms and grenades,” the group said on its website.
“The fighting happened after information that Karzai’s administration wanted to try several fighters in a cruel way in this court.”
Taliban fighters frequently target government compounds equipped with suicide vests, rockets and machine-guns.
“At around 8am [03:30 GMT] five attackers riding in two military-style vehicles drove to the provincial court building, one [vehicle] detonated at the gate and three attackers entered the building,” Agha Noor Kentos, police chief of Farah, told AFP.
Wounded being treated
Wakil Ahmad, a doctor at Farah hospital, said medics were treating scores of wounded including two judges and one court prisoner.
The governor’s compound was around 200 metres away from the scene of attack, an AFP reporter said.
Last year armed men dressed in Afghan police uniforms and wearing suicide vests stormed a government compound in Farah and killed seven people.
In November a roadside bomb planted by Taliban fighters killed 17 civilians, mostly women and children, on their way to a wedding party in Farah.
Al Jazeera’s Jennifer Glasse, reporting from Kabul, recalled
meeting a former Taliban commander last week, when there was an attack on a police training headquarters, before Karzai travelled to Doha for talks on the possible opening of a Taliban office in the Qatari capital.
She said the Taliban commander told her there was still a war going on and that until the Taliban’s demands were met, among which was the release of Taliban prisoners, attacks such as the one on the police centre would continue in Afghanistan.
The Taliban insurgency has raged since a 2001 US-led invasion put an end to its five-year rule over large parts of Afghanistan.
The group has increasingly widened its attacks outside its main power bases in the east and south, where NATO forces have focused their attention, to other areas such as Farah which borders Iran.
NATO combat troops are due to pull out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014, leaving responsibility for security to Afghan security forces.
However, there are fears that the violence will increase with their departure.
Last week’s calculated attack shows that international troops still face a myriad of dangers even though they are increasingly taking a back seat in operations with Afghan forces ahead of a full withdrawal by the end of 2014.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, said the attacker was thought to be about 16 years old. He escaped so his age couldn’t be verified.
Cable’s brother Raymond Johnston, a 42-year-old waiter in Owensboro, Ky., said the Army told the family the basics of what happened and that his brother was stabbed in the neck from behind.
Johnston said his brother, who also did a tour of duty in Iraq, was “prepared before he left for anything that happened” in Afghanistan.
Cable met individually with Johnston and three other family members before leaving for Afghanistan and had similar conversations with each — that the deployment was extremely hazardous and that his family and friends should “continue to enjoy life” if he was killed.
“He was able to communicate to the family about if the worst was supposed to happen, what we were supposed to do,” Johnston said.
Cable’s body was scheduled to return to Owensboro in western Kentucky on Thursday. Visitation was scheduled for Friday with the funeral set for Saturday.
The Afghan and American dignitaries were attending the swearing-in ceremony of Afghan Local Police in Shinwar district in Nangarhar province, senior district official Zalmai Khan said. Afghan Local Police, or ALP, recruits are drawn from villages and backed by the U.S. military.
The soldier was playing with children outside when the attacker came from behind and stabbed him in the neck with a large knife, Khan said. Other guards nearby didn’t immediately notice what had happened because there was no gunshot, and the assailant was able to flee to neighboring Pakistan, he added.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid identified the attacker as a 16-year-old local man named Khalid. He said Khalid was acting independently when he killed the soldier but had joined the Islamic militant movement since fleeing the scene.
The district official Khan did not provide a name or confirm the Taliban’s claim.
The Pentagon said in a statement last week that Cable, died from injuries sustained when his unit was attacked by enemy forces.
The killing comes as the U.S. death toll rose to 14 in March, compared with four in the previous two months of the year, partly fueled by the start of the spring fighting season when the Taliban and other insurgents take advantage of improved weather to step up attacks.
By contrast, at least 67 members of the Afghan security forces were killed last month, compared with 42 in February and 55 in January.
In a success story for the Afghan government, the intelligence service announced that it had foiled a plan to attack the Sulma dam in the western province of Herat.
Agency spokesman Shafiqullah Tahiri said an Afghan man identified as Sayed Gul was arrested with 1,300 kilograms (about 1.5 tons) of explosives. He blamed the Pakistani Taliban for plotting to bomb the dam in a bid to destabilize the country.