REPORTING FROM KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — Insurgents driving a truck packed with explosives and attacking on foot killed at least five people, including three United Nations employees, in the southern Afghanistan city of Kandahar on Monday.
The 6:15 a.m. attack took place in a neighborhood housing the United Nations’ refugee agency, the U.S.-based International Relief and Development organization and guest houses frequented by foreigners.
The driver of the pickup truck reportedly plowed into a checkpoint, detonating his explosives near the offices of the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees.
At least two other insurgents then holed up inside a nearby building, exchanging fire with NATO and Afghan security forces for several hours before they were killed, according to Kandahar police chief Gen. Abdul Razzaq.
Afghan police said the insurgents tried to enter and destroy the U.N. compound but were thwarted. The Taliban, which claimed responsibility for the attack, said the U.N. refugee agency was its target.
The U.N. refugee agency said three of its employees were killed and two wounded. It did not give their nationalities.
“This is a tragedy for [the agency] and for the families of the dead and wounded,” Antonio Guterres, the agency’s commissioner, said in a statement. “It also underscores the great risks for humanitarian workers in Afghanistan.”
NATO plans to hand over security to Afghan forces by 2014. With the transition in sight, analysts said, insurgents have stepped up attacks hoping to push the foreigners out earlier or at least claiming credit for their exit.
“Despite the insurgency's failures this past year, it remains capable,” German Brig. Gen. Carsten Jacobson, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, told reporters in Kabul. He added that the fighters were aided by having safe havens in Pakistan as they continued to fight for control over parts of Afghanistan.
Monday’s attack was the second against foreign interests in the past few days. On Saturday, a suicide car bomb in Kabul killed 17 people, including five NATO service members, eight civilian contractors and four Afghans.
Footage of the site of Monday’s attack showed extensive damage to the U.S. charity and U.N. agency offices, with large chunks of cement, twisted metal reinforcement bars and tree limbs littering the ground.
— Hashmat Baktash in Kabul and Mark Magnier in New Delhi
Photo: Police officers in Kandahar, Afghanistan, keep watch after a suicide bomb attack Monday near a building housing the United Nations refugee agency. Credit: Ahmad Nadeem / Reuters