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Insurgents attack Afghan police outpost, killing 6

The four gunmen and suicide bombers, who wore police uniforms to gain entry, also died after storming the traffic-police compound.

May 23, 2011|By Laura King, Los Angeles Times
  • Smoke pours from a traffic police building after it was attacked by insurgents in Khowst, eastern Afghanistan. Six people were killed.
Smoke pours from a traffic police building after it was attacked by insurgents… (Nishanuddin Khan, Associated…)

Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan — In what has become a near-daily drumbeat of insurgent attacks on Afghan government and security installations, a team of gunmen and suicide bombers on Sunday stormed a police outpost in an eastern city, killing six people, most of them Afghan police and soldiers.

The four assailants died as well, officials said.

The early-morning onslaught in the city of Khowst typified a pattern of insurgent strikes that has taken hold as the spring "fighting season" gathers force — a coordinated assault on a site that somehow symbolizes the authority of the central government. And in what has become an increasingly common tactic, the attackers wore Afghan police uniforms to confuse the defenders and gain initial entry.

Guerrilla-style attacks like this one are increasingly favored by the Taliban and other insurgents, who are reluctant to engage in direct military confrontations with troops far more numerous or Western.

U.S. and other NATO commanders say they believe they have blunted the momentum of the insurgency, but blazing urban gun battles like this one generally leave local people feeling rattled and insecure — thus achieving a key aim of the militants, whatever the outcome.

In Sunday's attack, the target was a relatively humble one: a compound belonging to traffic police. A day earlier, in a much higher-profile strike, a suicide bomber in the capital, Kabul, hit the country's largest military hospital, killing six medical trainees.

Khowst, which lies not far from the border with Pakistan, is a frequent attack site, despite the presence of a large North Atlantic Treaty Organization base on the city's outskirts. Several insurgent groups are active in the area, including the Taliban and the Haqqani network, which is based in Pakistan.

A U.S. military official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the day's events, said American troops provided "technical" assistance to Afghan security forces as they fought to regain control of the compound, but he provided no details. The NATO force generally tries to let Afghan police and soldiers take the lead in dealing with such incidents, in preparation for an expected drawdown of Western troops that is to begin this summer.

The Khowst provincial police chief, Gen. Abdul Hakim Ishaqzai, said the attack — which set off a battle lasting much of the day — was apparently intended to be even larger in scale. Police recovered a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and a car bomb, which was defused before it could be detonated, he said.

The six men killed by the attackers were three police officers, two Afghan soldiers and a civilian worker in the compound, according to police. At one point, in what has become another hallmark of such attacks, the assailants used the upper floors of the commandeered building to fire on arriving government reinforcements, police said.

laura.king@latimes.com

Special correspondent Hashmat Baktash in Kabul contributed to this report.

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