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In an image taken from video, an injured Afghan soldier was taken to a hospital in Farah, Afghanistan, on Wednesday. The western city was the scene of a massive suicide bombing and Taliban assault on a government compound.

Associated Press ,

44 die in Taliban attack on Afghan government compound

  • Article by: AZAM AHMED
  • New York Times
  • April 3, 2013 - 9:27 PM

 – In one of the most deadly insurgent attacks in the decade-long war in Afghanistan, nine Taliban fighters dressed as Afghan soldiers stormed a government compound in the western part of the country on Wednesday morning, leaving at least 44 people dead and wounding more than 100 in a hostage standoff.

The complex assault began about 8:45 a.m., when two suicide attackers detonated explosives packed into an army truck at the entrance gate of the provincial government compound in Farah, according to police officials.

After the explosion, which ripped through the mayor’s office and neighboring buildings, insurgents rushed the packed provincial courthouse, taking civilians and a handful of employees hostage.

Afghan security forces surrounded the building, firing at the Taliban fighters tucked away on the second floor. At some point during the nearly seven-hour gunfight, the insurgents took the hostages downstairs to the basement and shot them, the police said.

By 4 p.m., the fight was over, leaving behind a scene of carnage and destruction. The death toll: 34 civilians, 10 Afghan security forces and all nine insurgents, the Farah police said. More than 100 people, mostly civilians, suffered wounds.

Home to a nightmarish scene

On the street where the attack took place, witnesses described a nightmarish scene, with bodies splayed all over. Ambulances carted charred bodies from the buildings, including the offices of the mayor, prosecutor and the governor.

“When I reached the street I saw that all shops and houses around the courthouse were destroyed,” said Jalil Khan, 47, a civil servant at the customs office. “I saw men, women and some children lying on the ground, bleeding or burned. Some of them didn’t know where they were or what had happened to them.”

The attack highlighted the deteriorating security situation in Farah, which borders Iran to the west. The last major assault in the province occurred in May, when four insurgents dressed as police officers staged an attack on the governor’s compound, killing at least 11 people. But violent attacks in general have been on the rise recently in the province.

Officials from Farah said the province has become a hotbed for the insurgency and drug traffickers, as the government focuses its resources on more violent areas of the country.

As warm weather spreads throughout Afghanistan, a period referred to as the fighting season, Taliban violence is expected to increase.

“Farah is bleeding and crying today,” said Humaira Ayobi, a member of the Parliament representing Farah. “The province will mourn for weeks.”

Injured intelligence chief returns

The attack in Farah Province coincided with the highly anticipated return of Afghanistan’s powerful intelligence chief, Asadullah Khalid, who was seriously wounded in a December suicide attack. Khalid, who was treated in the United States and required multiple surgeries, returned to Kabul on Wednesday morning.

Khalid’s return, heralded by “Welcome” banners strung from traffic posts across the city of Kabul, is seen by many as a symbolic victory for the Afghan government. At the time of the attack last December, when an insurgent detonated a hidden bomb at a National Directorate of Security guesthouse, Khalid’s very survival, no less his return, was in question.

But for months, the government promised he would again take the helm of the intelligence agency. On Wednesday, the agency, known as the NDS, issued a statement celebrating his return and promising to “continue its services day and night to bring security, peace and stability to the country.”

© 2014 Star Tribune