Khost (Afghanistan), May 19: Taliban fighters attacked an Afghan road construction company before dawn today, triggering gunbattles that killed 35 people and wounded another 20 in the worst single attack in months. The attack, which sparked a shootout lasting five hours, happened in the eastern province of Paktia, which borders Pakistan, at around 2:00am (0300 IST), a provincial spokesman said.
It is thought to be the highest single death toll in a Taliban attack since the militant Islamists struck at a bank in Jalalabad, also in the east, in February, killing 38 people including police collecting their salaries.
“A large group of Taliban attacked a road construction company in Paktia province. The fighting between the company guards and Taliban attackers continued for five hours,” said Paktia provincial spokesman Rohullah Samoon.
“Thirty-five guards and staff of the company were killed and 20 were injured. There were casualties on the Taliban side as well.”
Samoon said eight Taliban were also killed. Deputy provincial governor Abdul Rahman Mangal said the company targeted was Afghan.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the movement carried out the attack, killing 40 people and torching four vehicles.
He did not mention any Taliban casualties. The militia is known frequently to exaggerate its claims. The militants have made Afghan government projects a prime target in a bid to undermine the authority of President Hamid Karzai's administration and have repeatedly kidnapped foreign road construction workers from camps in the past.
The Taliban have been waging a 10-year battle to evict foreign troops stationed in Afghanistan in the wake of the 2001 US-led invasion that toppled their extremist Islamist regime from power for sheltering Osama bin Laden. There are currently around 130,000 US-led international troops in the troubled country although limited troop withdrawals are due to start from a handful of safer areas in July.
This is ahead of a scheduled full withdrawal of combat troops in 2014, although there have been calls for this timetable to be speeded up in the wake of the killing of the al-Qaeda leader by US forces in Pakistan on May 2. US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates said this week that accelerating troop withdrawals from Afghanistan because of bin Laden's death would be “premature”. “I think we just don't know. It's only been a week.
And people are already drawing historical conclusions. I think that's a little quick,” he told the CBS news show “60 Minutes” in an interview. AFP