Suicide strike in SE Afghan city

KABUL: Taliban fighters wearing suicide vests and armed with AK-47 rifles and rocket-propelled grenades attacked the main police station Saturday in the southeast city of Khost, triggering hours-long gunbattles that left seven militants dead and four people wounded, officials said.

Also Saturday, a British soldier was killed by a roadside bomb during a patrol in the Lashkar Gah district of Helmand province, the focus of major offensives by U.S. and British forces against the Taliban. The soldier was the 20th British service member killed in Afghanistan this month and the 189th since the war began in 2001.

The attack in Khost began in the afternoon when at least six Taliban fighters wearing explosive stormed the area around the main police station and a nearby government-run bank. All were all shot and killed before they could detonate their explosive vests, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

A seventh attacker detonated a car rigged with the explosives near a police rapid reaction force, wounding two policemen, the ministry said. Two civilians — a woman and a child — were wounded in the attack on the bank, the ministry added.

Interior Ministry spokesman Zemerai Bashary said all the attackers had been killed, but residents reached by telephone from Kabul said sporadic firing could still be heard late in the afternoon.

Provincial council member Tajaly Khan Saber told The Associated Press that the firing kept residents off the streets of the city, site of a major U.S. military base, about 95 miles (150 kilometers) south of Kabul.

It was not clear if U.S. troops were involved in the fighting Saturday, but U.S. helicopters patrolled the skies overhead.

Ramazan Bashardost, a member of parliament and one of about 40 presidential candidates, was in Khost campaigning for the Aug. 20 ballot but did not appear to be a target of the attack. He told the AP by phone that he was safe. Bashardost said shops in the city were closed and streets were full of Afghan soldiers.

Khost is about 12 miles (20 kilometers) from the Pakistani border and has long been a flash point because of smuggling across the frontier.

Last May, 11 Taliban suicide bombers struck government buildings in Khost, killing 20 people and wounding three Americans.

On Tuesday, suspected Taliban militants armed with bombs, rifles and rocket-propelled grenades launched near-simultaneous assaults in Gardez, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northwest of Khost, and in the eastern city of Jalalabad. Six Afghan police and intelligence officers and eight militants died in the two attacks.

Fighting has increased sharply in Afghanistan this month after President Barack Obama ordered thousands more U.S. troops to the country, shifting the focus of the war against Muslim extremism from Iraq.

At least 66 international troops have died in Afghanistan in July, the bloodiest month of the nearly eight-year war.