Taliban Attack Afghan Parliament, Seize Lands

Taliban Attack Afghan Parliament, Seize LandsTaliban Attack Afghan Parliament, Seize Lands

A Taliban suicide bomber and six gunmen attacked the Afghan Parliament on Monday, wounding at least 19 people and sending a plume of black smoke across Kabul, as a second district in two days fell to the extremist group in the north.

The attack began when a Taliban militant driving a car loaded with explosives blew up outside parliament gates, said Ebadullah Karimi, spokesman for Kabul police, raising questions about how the driver got through several security checkpoints.

Six gunmen took up positions in a building near parliament, he said. Security forces killed the six after a gun battle lasting nearly two hours, Reuters reported.

Kabul police chief Abdul Rahman Rahimi said all lawmakers were safe. TV pictures showed the speaker sitting calmly and legislators leaving the building, engulfed in dust and smoke, without panicking.

Lawmaker Farhad Sediqi was among several lawmakers who criticized security agencies for not preventing the attack.

“It shows a big failure in the intelligence and security departments of the government.”

Four women were among the 19 wounded, said Sayed Kabir Amiri, a health official who coordinates Kabul hospitals.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility by the phone. “We have launched an attack on parliament as there was an important gathering to introduce the country’s defense minister.”

The attack on the symbolic center of power, one of the most brazen in years, along with a series of Taliban gains elsewhere, raises questions about the NATO-trained Afghan security forces’ ability to cope and how far the militants can advance.

 Vacant Ministry

Sidiqa Mubarez, a member of parliament, said the building was rocked by the large explosion and that some people were wounded by flying glass.

She said the explosion happened shortly after Masoom Stanekzai had arrived to be confirmed as defense minister, a post that has been vacant for nine months. The vote was delayed by the attack.

Just down the street, hundreds of children were evacuated from a school. Parents could be seen racing toward the building, shouting out the names of their children.

The war on the Taliban has been hampered by months of bickering between President Ashraf Ghani and his election rival turned Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, which has repeatedly delayed the appointment of a defense minister.

The parliament’s mandate expired on Monday, with no date yet for new elections. Ghani’s office said in a statement on Friday that he would announce a date for new elections within a month and that the assembly could continue meeting until they are held.

 Widespread Violence

Violence has spiraled in Afghanistan since the departure of most foreign forces at the end of last year. The insurgents are pushing to take territory more than 13 years after the US-led military intervention that toppled the Taliban from power.

The withdrawal of foreign forces and a reduction in US airstrikes have allowed Taliban militants, who ruled Afghanistan with an iron fist from 1996 to 2001, to launch several major attacks in important provinces.

The second district to fall to the Taliban on Monday was in the northern province of Kunduz. Officials said it fell after urgently needed reinforcements failed to arrive.

The Taliban captured Dasht-e-Archi District a day after hundreds of militants fought their way to the center of the adjacent district of Chardara.

“The Taliban managed to take it over this morning as the area has been surrounded for days,” Nasruddin Saeedi, the district governor who escaped to the provincial capital, Kunduz, said by telephone.

“There are many foreign fighters with heavy machine guns. We have asked for reinforcements, but none arrived.”

Afghan soldiers were preparing a counterattack to retake both districts, another local official said. Monday’s heavy fighting was just 3 kilometers from the governor’s compound.