Suicide bombers hit Afghan city

Hour-long battle as Taliban militants storm police station and bank; 7 killed

Also on Saturday, a British soldier was killed by a roadside bomb during a patrol in the Lashkar Gah district of Helmand province, the focus of major offensives by US and British forces against the Taliban. The soldier was the 20th British service member killed in Afghanistan this month and the 189th since the war began in 2001.

The attack in Khost began in the afternoon when at least six Taliban fighters wearing explosive stormed the area around the main police station and a nearby government-run bank. All were all shot and killed before they could detonate their explosive vests, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

A seventh attacker detonated a car rigged with the explosives near a police rapid reaction force, wounding two policemen, the ministry said. Two civilians — a woman and a child — were wounded in the attack on the bank, the ministry added.

Interior Ministry spokesman Zemerai Bashary said all the attackers had been killed, but residents reached by telephone from Kabul said sporadic firing could still be heard late in the afternoon.

Provincial council member Tajaly Khan Saber said that the firing kept residents off the streets of the city, site of a major US military base, about 150 kilometres south of Kabul.
It was not clear if US troops were involved in the fighting Saturday, but US helicopters patrolled the skies overhead.

Target of attack

Ramazan Bashardost, a member of parliament and one of about 40 presidential candidates, was in Khost campaigning for the August 20 ballot but did not appear to be a target of the attack. He told by phone that he was safe. Bashardost said shops in the city were closed and streets were full of Afghan soldiers.

Khost is about 20 km from the Pakistani border and has long been a flash point because of smuggling across the frontier.

Last May, 11 Taliban suicide bombers struck government buildings in Khost, killing 20 people and wounding three Americans.

On Tuesday, suspected Taliban militants armed with bombs, rifles and rocket-propelled grenades launched near-simultaneous assaults in Gardez, about 80 km northwest of Khost, and in the eastern city of Jalalabad. Six Afghan police and intelligence officers and eight militants died in the two attacks.

Fighting has increased sharply in Afghanistan this month after President Barack Obama ordered thousands more US troops to the country, shifting the focus of the war against Muslim extremism from Iraq.

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