---- — KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Militants staged a suicide car bombing then engaged in a gunfight with security forces near the American consulate in the western Afghan city of Herat early today, officials said.
Police told the Guardian newspaper that two Afghan security forces were killed, as were five of the attackers, while all U.S. consulate personnel were safe. However, at presstime, the extent of the casualties were still being tallied.
Qari Yousef Ahmadi, a spokesman for the Taliban, claimed responsibility on behalf of the militant group.
The attack underscored the perilous security situation in Afghanistan, where U.S.-led troops are reducing their presence ahead of a full withdrawal planned for next year. The insurgent strikes are no longer concentrated in the country’s south and east, but occur with troubling frequency in the north and west.
The attack occurred just before 6 a.m. when a truck carrying attackers sped towards the front gate of the consulate, said Marie Harf, a deputy State Department spokeswoman, according to CNN.
The car bomber detonated his explosives about 66 yards away from the consulate compound, said Sayed Fazlullah Wahidi, the governor of Herat province.
The initial explosion was strong enough that windows shattered in houses several hundred feet from the consulate. Various other blasts were heard, as well as an intense exchange of gun fire, residents said, according to the Washington Post.
Other militants then began firing on security forces in the area.
The attackers fired assault rifles starting a gun battle with Afghan security forces.
During the battle, the truck exploded, Harf said, causing major damage to the front gate of the consulate.
American consulate personnel took shelter in safe havens while U.S. security forces responded to the attack, Harf said. There were no U.S. casualties.
Nine injured people were taken to a Herat hospital, according hospital official Mohammad Rafiq Sherzad.
General Rahmatullah Safi, chief of police in Herat province, initially said an Afghan translator who apparently worked for the consulate died in the attack, but later said that victim was more likely a private security guard working at the compound.
One police officer was caught under some rubble in the area, and it was not immediately clear if he was killed.
Today’s assault followed a day and a half of exceptional joy in Afghanistan, when people of all backgrounds were celebrating their nation’s first international soccer championship win.