Multiple Blasts Hit Eastern Afghan City, Gun Battle Underway

JALALABAD, Afghanistan (Reuters) -
Smoke rises from the site of a blast and gun battle between Afghan security forces and a handful of terrorists in Jalalabad city, Afghanistan, Sunday. (Reuters/Parwiz)

Afghan security forces battled a group of terrorists who stormed a government building in the eastern city of Jalalabad on Sunday in a coordinated attack that killed at least six people and wounded dozens, local officials said.

At least three explosions were heard at the start of the attack, in a building housing the state accounts office, Attahullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the Nangarhar provincial governor, said.

The attack, in a busy area of the city with many other official buildings nearby, is the latest in a series that have killed and wounded hundreds in Afghanistan this year and put heavy pressure on the Western-backed government of President Ashraf Ghani.

Most have been in the capital Kabul, but in January, gunmen attacked an office of aid group Save the Children in Jalalabad, killing at least five people and wounding 25.

Inamullah Miakhel, a local health department spokesman, said at least six people had been killed in Sunday’s attack and around 30 wounded had been brought to city hospitals. The number of casualties could rise with the battle still going on.

The attack began when one terrorist blew himself up at the gate of the building in the center of the city, allowing the terrorists to enter, Sohrab Qaderi, a member of the provincial council, told Reuters. More explosions were then heard coming from inside the building, he added.

He said at least four terrorists, armed with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns, still appeared to be fighting police.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Violence has escalated across Afghanistan since the announcement of the Taliban’s annual spring offensive last month and there have been heightened security fears around preparations for elections in October.

Dozens of people have been killed in voter registration centers in recent weeks.

At the same time, Taliban terrorists have stepped up the pressure on government forces across the country, from Baghlan province in the north, where they seized a district center last week, to Farah in the southwest or Ghazni south of Kabul.

Last year, the United States stepped up its support to struggling Afghan forces, announcing plans for thousands of additional advisers and increasing airstrikes in a bid to force the Taliban to enter peace negotiations.