Militants storm government building in Afghanistan, killing seven

REPORTING FROM KABUL, AFGHANISTAN AND ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN -- Heavily armed Taliban militants wearing suicide bomb vests stormed a government building in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday, killing at least seven people in a six-hour firefight with Afghan security forces.

The attack occurred at a communications building in Sharan, the capital of Paktika province along the Pakistani border. One of the three insurgents was shot to death by Afghan forces at the building’s entrance gate, but the others managed to break through and enter the building, said Mukhlis Afghan, spokesman for the Paktika governor’s office.

Armed with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, the insurgents used the building as a vantage point from which to fire at other nearby government buildings, Afghan said. Four civilians and three Afghan police officers were killed in the firefight, along with the two remaining attackers. Two civilians and a police officer were also injured in the attack.

Paktika is a stronghold for the Haqqani network, a wing of the Afghan Taliban regarded by U.S. officials as the deadliest threat to Western troops in Afghanistan. Haqqani fighters move easily across the border from their havens in Pakistan’s largely lawless tribal areas. 

Afghan insurgent violence has not abated despite stepped-up attempts by the U.S. and its allies to move toward peace talks with Taliban leaders. Washington is hoping to forge a negotiated settlement before completing the withdrawal of U.S. troops scheduled for 2014.

In the eastern province of Kunar, a mortar attack on an Afghan army base Tuesday killed four Afghan soldiers and injured nine others along with one civilian, said Wasifullah Wasifi, spokesman for the Kunar governor’s office. Wasifi said the shelling came from an area along the border with Pakistan.

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-- Aimal Yaqubi in Kabul and Alex Rodriguez in Islamabad. Special correspondent Hashmat Baktash in Kabul contributed to this report.

 
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