At least 13 killed in Taliban attacks
Afghan security personal surround the area after Taliban fighters stormed a government building in Jalalabad, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, May 12, 2014. Taliban fighters stormed a government building in eastern Afghanistan killing police guards on Monday, the most serious in a wave of attacks marking the start of the insurgents' annual spring offensive. In the Taliban heartland in the south, an attack on a police checkpoint in Helmand province killed many policemen. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
KABUL, Afghanistan — Taliban assailants stormed a government complex in eastern Afghanistan and raided police checkpoints Monday in a series of attacks that killed at least 13 people and marked the start of what the insurgent group dubbed a new spring offensive.
Militants also fired two rockets at Kabul International Airport, causing no casualties but underscoring the country’s fragile security even as it awaits the results of last month’s presidential election and the United States continues to withdraw its forces.
Fighting between the Taliban and government forces and their NATO allies typically increases in the spring as the weather improves and snow melts. But this year will the toughest test yet for Afghan soldiers and police, who are now completely in charge of security operations as NATO forces including the remaining 30,000 U.S. troops — the lowest number in six years — accelerate their withdrawal.
The Taliban announced last week that it would begin a new offensive on May 12. The deadliest attack occurred in the eastern city of Jalalabad, where three militants dressed in police uniforms struck a compound housing the provincial justice department and engaged in a three-hour gun battle with Afghan security forces.
One assailant set off his explosive vest at the entrance, clearing the way for the others to get in, said Hazrat Hussain Mashriqiwal, a spokesman for the Nangarhar provincial police department. Five justice department employees and two police officers were killed, Mashriqiwal said. The other two attackers were shot and killed by police. Seven other people were wounded in the incident, Mashriqiwal said.
The Taliban also claimed responsibility for two raids on police checkpoints. In southern Helmand province, officials said that three police officers were killed in the volatile Sangin district. The last U.S. Marines stationed in Sangin pulled out last week.
In another restive area, the eastern city of Ghazni, provincial officials said that militants unleashed gunfire and mortar rounds on police checkpoints, including some near civilian homes.
One police officer and two women were killed and at least eight others were injured, including three children.
The ongoing violence has undermined a generally successful election held last month to determine the successor to President Hamid Karzai. Although the insurgents failed to derail the first-round election on April 5 amid a heavy Afghan security presence in urban areas, the Taliban demonstrated its prowess in rural areas of eastern and southern Afghanistan by launching small-scale attacks and threatening voters, many of whom did not cast ballots out of fear.