Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan —
A Taliban suicide squad stormed the compound of a development group working under contract to the U.S. government on Friday, killing at least three expatriate workers, a security guard and an Afghan police officer, officials said.
All six attackers also died in the predawn assault in the northern city of Kunduz. At the outset of the strike, one of the assailants blew up a sport utility vehicle at the compound's gates; the other five were killed in a gun battle that followed, provincial police said.
Provincial Gov. Mohammed Omar said the three slain foreigners were from Germany, Britain and the Philippines. About eight Americans were rescued from the compound during the siege, the governor said.
The attack came on the day that U.S. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the new commander of Western forces in Afghanistan, arrived in Kabul. It took place at a compound owned by the Washington, D.C.-based Development Alternatives Inc.
The company is under contract to the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID. The company's website says its work focuses on community economic development and promoting better governance.
NATO's International Security Assistance Force said some wounded civilians were treated at a nearby military base, but did not provide numbers, nationalities or the extent of their injuries. It also said its troops had assisted Afghan forces responding to the attack, but provided no details.
Local officials said about two dozen people were wounded, both foreigners and Afghans.
Such coordinated and determined insurgent strikes on foreign non-military targets are relatively rare, especially in Afghanistan's once-quiet north. But the Taliban movement, which claimed responsibility for Friday's strike, has made it clear that international aid organizations are not immune.
Five United Nations staffers were killed in October when insurgents stormed a guesthouse in Kabul, the capital. An Afghan U.N. employee died this week when attackers shot up a U.N. vehicle at a busy Kabul traffic circle.
The Kunduz provincial police chief, Gen. Abdul Razaq Yaqoubi, said police responded quickly to the attack, which began at 3:30 a.m., but gunfire continued until about 9:30 a.m. A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, alleged that the compound was a "special forces training center."
Hampering international development has emerged as a major element of the Taliban strategy. The slow pace of reconstruction frustrates most Afghans, and they tend to take that anger out on the government of President Hamid Karzai.
Many people also question why the West mounts a huge, expensive, military effort while in many parts of the country people live with impassable roads, dirty water and tottering infrastructure.
American forces in the country now number nearly 100,000, and Western casualties are at record highs. The military reported another Western troop fatality Friday in eastern Afghanistan, but did not disclose the nationality.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization force condemned the assault in Kunduz. The U.S. Embassy called it an act of cowardice and Karzai's office blamed enemies of the state.
"This attack shows the insurgents' desire to prevent progress, and draws attention to their true goal of serving themselves rather than the people of Afghanistan," said U.S. Navy Capt. Jane Campbell, an ISAF spokeswoman.
Most of the Western troops in a swath of the north that includes Kunduz province are German. The Taliban are known to keep a close eye on domestic political sentiment in nations that contribute troops to the international force.
In Germany, support for the war has been on a downward spiral, and serious attacks in the Germans' area of operations tend to further erode public backing for the Afghan mission.