AFP Herat, Afghanistan
An Afghan police guard was killed yesterday when a United Nations compound came under attack in Herat, officials said, as fighting raged between government forces and the Taliban on the outskirts of the western city.
Violence has surged across the country since early May when the Taliban launched a sweeping offensive as the US-led foreign forces began a final withdrawal which is now almost complete.
The Taliban have seized scores of districts across the country, including in Herat province, where the group has also captured two border crossings adjoining Iran and Turkmenistan.
Yesterday, the Taliban clashed with government forces on the outskirts of Herat city, the provincial capital, forcing scores of families to flee, residents said, as the insurgents tightened their noose.
During the fighting the UN’s main compound in Herat came under attack by rocket-propelled grenades and gunfire, a statement issued by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said.
“This attack against the United Nations is deplorable and we condemn it in the strongest terms,” said Deborah Lyons, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan.
“The perpetrators of this attack must be identified and brought to account.”
UNAMA said the attack was carried out by “anti-government elements”. It said, however, that the area where the compound is located was the scene of heavy fighting between the Taliban and government forces.
The Taliban say they will not target foreign diplomats, but have blatantly violated international protocol before.
The European Union delegation to Kabul blamed the Taliban for the attack on the UN compound in Herat.
“The Taliban have to account for the crime which will be considered an attack against all of us. It is contrary to all assurances given,” ambassador Andreas Von Brandt, head of the EU delegation, tweeted.
For the past two days the insurgents and government forces have clashed on the outskirts of Herat, Afghanistan’s third-largest city of 600,000 inhabitants.
An AFP correspondent there said the Taliban and Afghan forces were also fighting on the road leading to the city airport yesterday, while residents reported clashes in the nearby districts of Injil and Guzara.
“People there are terrified,” said Abdul Rab Ansari, who fled to the city from Guzara.
“The fighting is heavy but they have not captured the district of Guzara so far,” said Mohamed Allahyar, who also sought shelter in Herat.
Afghan forces and militiamen of veteran warlord and anti-Taliban commander Ismail Khan have been deployed around the city in recent days.
Khan, who previously fought the Soviet occupation forces in the 1980s and then the Taliban during their hardline regime in the 1990s, has vowed to fight the insurgents again to counter their staggering advances in recent months.
Fighting has also raged in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar since Thursday.
In Helmand, the Taliban attacked the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah from several directions on Thursday, local police officer Daud Shah said.
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