KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) — Three heavily armed insurgents tried to storm a former intelligence headquarters in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday, prompting a fierce gunbattle that left the attackers dead.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in the city of Kandahar, which provided a test for Afghan security forces as U.S. and allied combat troops have handed over the lead in preparation for their withdrawal by the end of the year.
The three attackers — young men wielding hand grenades, automatic rifles and smaller weapons — entered Kandahar undetected in a white Corolla sedan, then got out and opened fire on guards deployed outside the former headquarters. The guards retreated inside while the insurgents took rooftop positions nearby, police said.
The police response was quick. They rushed to the site in green pick-up trucks and cordoned off the road. Soon armored vehicles mounted with machine guns rushed to the old intelligence headquarters and fanned out on nearby streets.
Commandos with the intelligence service, which had recently moved to a new building, moved in from a second direction, wearing body armor and helmets, their faces hidden behind scarves to protect their identities.
"They must not have known that the intelligence headquarters had relocated," deputy police chief Rehmatullah Atrafi told The Associated Press at the scene of the firefight.
In a Pashtu language text message received by the AP, Taliban spokesman Qari Yusuf said their young fighters killed four intelligence commandos and five policemen. Their claims are often exaggerated.
The three insurgents were killed, their mangled corpses left on the street and displayed to journalists, after a gunbattle that lasted about an hour, with security forces running through nearby streets in search of the attackers. One commando and a woman who lived in the area were wounded, according to police.
Kandahar, the capital of the province with the same name, is the birthplace of the hard-line Islamic militant movement that held power in the country for five years until it was ousted in a 2001 U.S.-led invasion following the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States. It has been the site of some of the deadliest battles between insurgents and international troops, but Afghan forces have assumed responsibility for securing the area and only receive help from NATO forces when they request it.
Atrafi said police did not ask for help in Wednesday's attack. He said the attackers were likely in their early 20s.
"These young boys don't know any better. They can easily be manipulated into carrying out a suicide attack like this one," he said.
Associated Press writer Mirwais Khan contributed to this report. Kathy Gannon is AP Special Regional Correspondent for Afghanistan and Pakistan and can be followed at www.twitter.com/kathygannon