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Taliban attack government buildings in Afghanistan, 2 dead

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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) – The Taliban unleashed a coordinated wave of attacks on government targets in the key southern Afghan city of Kandahar Saturday, killing at least two people and wounding 29.

President Hamid Karzai charged that the violence was “revenge” for this week’s killing of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by US troops in Pakistan, but the Taliban said the operation was planned several weeks ahead.

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Targets in the first major incident since the Taliban unveiled the start of its spring offensive included the offices of the governor, mayor and intelligence service plus two schools and several police offices.

The violence in the Taliban’s heartland city kicked off around 1:00 pm (0930 GMT) when militants with guns and rocket-propelled grenades holed up in nearby buildings and attacked the governor’s office.

Later on, ten explosions including six suicide blasts, two car bombs and two rickshaw bombs rocked the city.

Provincial governor Tooryalai Wesa, who was in his compound as the attack took place, revealed details of casualties in a press conference while officials stressed the fighting was not yet over.

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“As a result of today’s terrorist attacks, 29 people were injured and two were killed. Ten members of security forces are among the injured,” Wesa said.

A statement from his office added: “Our brave security forces have repulsed all enemy attacks but their resistance is still continuing in one area… but will soon be over.”

The two buildings close to the governor’s office, the focal point of the attacks, are now thought to have been almost been cleared, although aircraft targeting insurgents were circling in the skies above.

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However, fighting near the National Directorate of Security (NDS) office was ongoing where insurgents occupied a six-storey hotel.

Karzai’s office issued a strong condemnation of the attacks, linking them to Al-Qaeda and the death of bin Laden.

“Al-Qaeda and its terrorist members who have suffered a major defeat with the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistani territory have tried to hide this defeat by killing civilians in Kandahar and take their revenge on the innocent people of Afghanistan,” the statement said.

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The Taliban claimed the attacks, with spokesman Yusuf Ahmadi saying that “heavy casualties have been inflicted on the enemy”.

The militia had warned on Friday that this week’s killing of bin Laden by US would give “a new impetus” to their fight against foreign and Afghan forces.

But Ahmadi said the Kandahar attacks were planned for nearly three weeks and were part of the start of the Taliban’s annual spring offensive announced last week.

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A spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), Major General James Laster, described as a “spring offensive spectacular attack which was thwarted”.

NATO-led ISAF troops fought alongside Afghan forces against the insurgents.

There are around 130,000 international troops in Afghanistan, two-thirds of them from the United States, battling the Taliban and other insurgents.

Limited withdrawals from seven relatively peaceful areas, only one of which is in southern Afghanistan, are due to start in July ahead of the planned end of foreign combat operations in 2014.

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International forces claim that Kandahar and the surrounding area are now safer following months of intense fighting to clear traditional Taliban strongholds.

But government officials and other targets are still frequently targeted by militants in the city, the biggest in Afghanistan’s south.

Nearly 500 Taliban prisoners escaped from Kandahar’s prison last month through a huge tunnel in a major embarrassment for the authorities.

Also in April, Kandahar’s police chief was killed by an attacker in a police uniform, while in January Wesa’s deputy was killed.

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