Afghan security forces are fighting back after a Taliban attack on the Kabul home of the country’s acting defence minister as the head of Britain’s armed forces insisted that the militants’ advance can be halted.
At least eight people died, including four attackers, in the incident near the capital’s heavily-fortified “green zone”, while as many as 20 others were injured after a car bomb was detonated and gunmen entered the minister’s villa.
The apparent target, Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, was not at home and special forces engaged in a three-hour battle to end the attack.
The attempted assassination, which came as Afghan forces tried to hit back against Taliban fighters in the key southern city of Lashkar Gah and conflict raged in other provincial capitals, gave a further sign of the Taliban threat after weeks of territorial advances.
The militants have been emboldened by the withdrawal of US troops — retaking many districts from government forces. But after public protests last night in support of the Afghan government, General Sir Nick Carter, Britain’s chief of the defence staff, today insisted that Afghan forces can still stop the Taliban from seizing power. He conceded that “desperate measures” were being taken in Lashkar Gah, where the Afghan army has told residents to evacuate before an onslaught against the Taliban and that there was a risk of the country once again becoming a haven for “terrorists and nefarious elements”.
But he said the public show of support — during which people took to rooftops and waved the Afghan flag — suggested that the Afghan military could stop the Taliban. “If they can come together and demonstrate real unity then there’s every reason to suggest that the Afghan government can prevail,” he said.
General Carter added that the Taliban advance had been the result of a tactical decision by the Afghan authorities to withdraw from rural districts to “consolidate” its military power around urban areas where most people lived. He said everyone had expected that there would eventually “be a fight” in the provincial capitals.
The “Afghan army is fighting back” with reports suggesting that the Taliban were taking “very significant casualties”.