Taliban militants attacked a Kabul guesthouse used by a US anti-landmine charity on Friday, killing two people a week before presidential elections. The attack comes one week after militants killed nine people at Kabul's Serena hotel.
A terrified group including several young children briefly took shelter behind a generator on the street as Afghan special force commandos fought militants for more than three hours.
"One small Afghan girl, who was a passerby, has been killed. We managed to safely evacuate 31 foreign nationals from inside the building," Kabul police chief Mohammad Zaher told AFP.
The interior ministry spokesman said a driver had also been killed.
Roots of Peace's country director Sharif Osmani confirmed its guesthouse had been attacked, adding that three Afghans were injured and that three people had been trapped inside before being rescued.
The assault involved five attackers and began with a car bomb detonated in front of the building and continued until after dark as commandos hunted down attackers inside the compound.
"Roots of Peace has been a valued partner for Afghanistan, with the support of USAID," US Ambassador James Cunningham said on Twitter.
"We condemn this attack on an organisation that only seeks to help Afghans improve their lives and livelihoods," he wrote.
Afghan police said two Americans, a Peruvian, a Malaysian and an Australian were among those rescued, and that all five attackers had been killed.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack and said the target was a foreign guesthouse that they alleged was also used as a church.
Roots of Peace, which is based in San Francisco but has been working in Afghanistan since 2003, clears the minefields laid during the Soviet occupation of the 1980s and the civil war of the 1990s and converts the land for agricultural use, including vineyards and orchards.
Since 1989, when Soviet forces left Afghanistan, more than 4,000 people have been killed and 17,000 injured by mines, according to an estimate by the UN's Mine Action Coordination Center of Afghanistan.
Taliban vow to disrupt vote
The attack on Roots of Peace is the fourth significant attack this year in Kabul targeting foreigners or places where foreigners are known to congregate.
The assault comes just three days after Taliban militants stormed an office of the Independent Election Commission in Kabul, killing five people.
Four Taliban gunmen smuggled pistols into the high-security Serena hotel on March 21 and shot dead nine people, including four foreigners. The victims included AFP journalist Sardar Ahmad, his wife and two of their three children.
Those attacks followed the daylight shooting of a Swedish radio journalist and an assault in January on a Lebanese restaurant that killed 21 people, including 13 foreigners.
The Taliban have vowed to disrupt nationwide presidential polls on April 5, urging their followers to attack polling staff, voters and security forces in the run-up to election day.
The vote to choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai, who is barred constitutionally from seeking a third term, will be Afghanistan's first-ever democratic handover of power.
But there are fears of a repeat of the bloodshed that marred the 2004 and 2009 elections, when the Taliban displayed their opposition to the US-backed polls through violence.
Another bloody election would damage claims by international donors that the expensive, more than decade-long intervention in Afghanistan has made progress in establishing a functioning state.
A surge in attacks on foreigners in Kabul will also raise fears that poll monitors will be unable to work effectively, threatening the credibility of the vote.
The transfer of power comes just nine months before Afghanistan prepares to take the lead on ensuring its own security.
Some 53,000 NATO troops are set to withdraw from the country in December after 13 years of fighting the Islamist insurgency that erupted in the country when the Taliban were ousted from power by a US-led multinational force in late 2001.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2014-03-28