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Gunmen storm government building in Afghan capital, dozens dead

Omar Sobhani, REUTERS | Afghan security forces stand guard at the site of an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan December 24.

An hours-long gun and suicide attack on a Kabul government compound killed at least 43 people, the health ministry said Tuesday, making it one of the deadliest assaults on the Afghan capital this year.

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There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the assault on the site where the ministry of public works and other offices are located. At least 20 people were wounded in addition to those killed, interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish said. Most of the victims were civilians.

Afghan forces killed three of the attackers and freed more than 350 people trapped inside the compound, Danish added. A fourth attacker died in a car bomb explosion that launched the attack.

The attack began in the afternoon when a suicide bomber blew himself up in a car outside the public works ministry. Militants then stormed the building of the National Authority for Disabled People and Martyrs’ Families, taking civilians hostage as they fought a gun battle against Afghan soldiers.

The raid capped a tumultuous few days in Afghanistan, where officials are reeling from US President Donald Trump's plan to slash troop numbers. An American official told AFP late last week that Trump had decided to pull out "roughly half" of the 14,000 US forces in the country.

Many fear the withdrawal could undermine efforts in the 17-year war with the Taliban. The unexpected move stunned and dismayed foreign diplomats and Afghan officials in Kabul who are intensifying a push to end the conflict.

The assault also comes a day after a major security shake-up in Kabul. President Ashraf Ghani on Sunday appointed Amrullah Saleh and Assadullah Khaled, both former spymasters known for their anti-Taliban and -Pakistan stance, to head the interior and defense ministries, respectively.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP)

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