At least 43 people were killed and 20 were injured in a suicide and gun attack on a Kabul government compound where the Ministry of Public Works and other offices are located on Monday, an official said. This came after a major security shake-up in Kabul and US President Donald Trump's plan to slash troop numbers which many fear could harm efforts to end the 17-year war with the Taliban. However, no group has claimed the responsibility for the attack. “Most of the victims were civilians. Afghan forces killed three of the attackers and freed more than 350 people trapped inside the compound, interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish said. “A fourth attacker died in a car bomb explosion that launched the attack,” he said.
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One of the wounded civilians broke several bones after jumping from the third floor of a building to escape the attackers, an AFP correspondent at a hospital said. Plumes of black smoke could be seen rising from the compound, with at least two military helicopters circling above.
Journalists near the scene reported hearing numerous explosions in the hours after the attack began mid-afternoon. Ashraf, a witness who works at the Ministry of Public Works and who goes by one name, said earlier he had heard militants inside the compound exchanging gunfire with security forces.
"They are also firing at the NDS facility nearby," he told AFP after escaping the compound, referring to the Afghan spy agency, the National Directorate of Security.
Public works ministry spokesman Mehdi Rohani spoke to AFP as he and his colleagues were fleeing to a safe room shortly after the gunmen stormed the area. "A car bomb detonated at the entrance of the ministry's parking lot," he told AFP by mobile phone as he ran from the scene.
"I can hear some gunfire outside the building. We are fine." The attack came after an American official told last week that Trump had decided to pull out "roughly half" of the 14,000 US forces in the country.
The unexpected move stunned and dismayed foreign diplomats and Afghan officials in Kabul who are intensifying a push to end the conflict with the Taliban.
The assault also comes a day after President Ashraf Ghani appointed Amrullah Saleh and Assadullah Khaled, both former spymasters known for their anti-Taliban and Pakistan stance, to head the interior and defence ministries, respectively.
Militants have previously attacked government ministries and departments because they are often poorly defended and seen as soft targets.
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Monday's attack was the biggest in Kabul since November 28 when the Taliban detonated a vehicle bomb outside the compound of British security firm G4S, killing at least 10 people and leaving a massive crater in the road.
General Scott Miller, the top US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, said Sunday he had not received orders to pull forces out of the country.
Trump's decision apparently came Tuesday as US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad met with the Taliban in Abu Dhabi, part of efforts to bring the militants to the negotiating table with Kabul.
(With PTI inputs)