An hours-long gun and suicide attack on a Kabul government compound killed at least 43 people, the health ministry said on Tuesday, making it one of the deadliest assaults on the Afghan capital this year.
No militant group has claimed responsibility for the raid, which caps a bloody year for as long-suffering civilians and security forces were slaughtered in record numbers.
Another 10 people were wounded in Monday’s massacre on a site where the ministry of public works and an office that handles pensions and benefits for war veterans are located, spokesman Waheed Majroh said.
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Gunmen stormed the compound mid-afternoon after detonating a car bomb at the entrance, sending terrified government workers running for their lives. Some jumped from windows several floors high to escape the militants.
Hundreds more were trapped inside buildings for hours as heavily armed security forces swarmed the area, engaging the attackers in a fierce gun battle punctuated by multiple explosions.
At least four militants, including the suicide bomber, were killed and more than 350 people freed, officials said. Most of the dead and wounded were civilians, who have borne the brunt of the 17-year war.
It was the deadliest assault in the Afghan capital since a suicide bomber blew himself up in the middle of a religious gathering last month, killing at least 55 people.
The president of Afghanistan, , whose government has been criticised over its security failures, said “terrorists attack civilian targets to hide their defeat on the battleground”.
Afghanistan’s de facto prime minister, Abdullah Abdullah, also sounded a defiant note as he blamed the for the attack.
“Every attack they carry out against our people, our resolve is further strengthened to eliminate them,” he said.
But their statements belie the grim reality on the battlefield, where the Taliban have the upper hand.
Afghanistan’s largest militant group has made significant territorial gains this year as its fighters inflict record casualties on government forces.
The raid followed a tumultuous few days in Afghanistan where officials were reeling from US president , which many fear could harm efforts to end the conflict with the Taliban.
It also comes after a major security shake-up in Kabul that has placed staunch anti-Taliban and Pakistan veterans in charge of the police and military.