KABUL — Just before a media conference on voting security at Afghanistan’s election headquarters Saturday, the Taliban made their own statement on the matter by launching a five-hour siege of the building.
Two policemen were wounded in the attack, which came a week before the presidential poll. All of the attackers, who were carrying AK-47s and rocket propelled grenade launchers, were killed in the clash, Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish said.
Plumes of smoke could be seen rising from the building from miles away and the thump of explosions and clatter of automatic weapons fire continued for hours as insurgents fired from a half-built building near the electoral headquarters on the east side of the city. The attack started around 12:30 p.m. and the fighting didn’t stop until 5:30 p.m., according to a Kabul Police spokesman.
It was the second attack on an election office in the capital in less than a week. An assault Tuesday at another office left nine people dead.
The Taliban has vowed to disrupt the upcoming elections which they see as illegitimate, and have put the capital on edge by launching four separate attacks in just over a week.
Even before the latest attack, many aid groups had temporarily pulled their staffs from Afghanistan in anticipation of pre-election violence.
The recent attacks have been attracting significant media attention, coming just as a wave of international journalists descended on the country to cover the elections. The media throng at Saturday’s attack was noticeably larger than usual.
A Taliban spokesman claimed attackers had entered the compound and destroyed many important election documents as well as inflicting heavy casualties, though the insurgent group often exaggerates the effects of their attacks.
The attack even closed Kabul’s international airport for much of the afternoon, as the national election headquarters lies directly beneath the glide path for arriving flights, airport director Mohammad Yaqoub Rassouli said.
Afghans go to the polls April 5 to vote in an election that would mark the first democratic transfer of power in the country since the U.S. invasion in 2001. Hamid Karzai, who has been the country’s only president since the invasion, is barred by the constitution from running for re-election again.
A reasonably smooth election is seen as key not only to improving stability in Afghanistan but also to reassuring donor nations who Afghans rely on for the bulk of their government’s budget, including funding for the security forces.
Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this story.