Nine dead as Taliban attack British office in Kabul
Nine people including a foreign soldier died as suicide bombers attacked Britain's cultural centre in Kabul on Friday, a public holiday marking Afghan independence from London in 1919.
Militants blasted their way into the British Council compound at dawn by blowing up two car bombs at the gates.
Four Taliban suicide bombers in burqas got inside, unleashing a string of loud explosions that caused thick smoke to billow from the building as foreign and Afghan forces engaged militants in fierce gunfights for the next nine hours.
It was the latest high-profile strike to underline fragile security in the Afghan capital as US-led NATO combat troops start leaving Afghanistan. They are all due to withdraw by the end of 2014.
The British Council is an official organisation part-funded by the British government which promotes cultural relations in offices around the world.
Britain confirmed that none of its citizens were killed or injured in the attack but said three people -- two female English teachers from Britain and South Africa, plus their British security guard -- were forced to hide in a safe room for hours as attackers roamed the compound.
The three were later rescued by a joint Afghan and foreign security unit.
"The British Council staff who were in the compound who essentially were in the safe room for most of the day... have been extracted safely," Britain's ambassador to Kabul, William Patey, told reporters.
"This was a dastardly, cowardly attack designed to attack British interests but ultimately ending in the deaths of many Afghans."
The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said that one of its troops had been killed during the operation without giving nationality or details in line with policy.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said the "tragic but cowardly" attack would not stop the country's "vital work" in Afghanistan.
Cameron also thanked New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key for the role his country's special forces had played in ending the raid.
Afghan interior ministry spokesman Siddiq Siddiqui said eight people were killed and 22 others wounded in the attack, not including the ISAF death.
The dead were mostly Afghan police and security guards, he added.
Private security company G4S, which protects the compound, said in a statement that three of its Afghan employees were killed while six others -- three Nepalese ex-Gurkha soldiers and three Afghans -- were in hospital.
AFP journalists at the scene saw British, French and US forces on the ground, with two large NATO armoured vehicles arriving as helicopters circled above.
A spokesman for ISAF, Captain Justin Brockhoff, said the international military had sent a "limited number" of troops to the scene.
"We have a very small contribution to the Afghan-led response," he said. Afghan security forces are in overall control of security in Kabul.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed the militant group leading a 10-year insurgency in Afghanistan was responsible for the attack, which he said was to mark the nation's independence day.
"Today is our independence day from Britain. They recognised our independence 92 years ago. Today's attack was marking that day," Mujahid told AFP.
"Now the British have invaded our country again and they will recognise our independence day again."
Witnesses told of how they were jolted from their sleep by the sound of the first blast.
"It woke us up. The windows and glass were broken, the firing was going on, and my two daughters were slightly injured (by shattered glass)," said Amadullah, a shopkeeper living in the house next door to the British Council.
Britain is the second-largest provider of troops to the international military effort fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan after the United States, with around 9,500 forces mainly in the south.
While Kabul is seen as more stable than some other parts of Afghanistan, it has been hit by a series of high-profile attacks.
In the most recent, 21 people were killed in June when the Taliban attacked the city's Intercontinental Hotel, popular with foreigners. Security in the city is controlled by Afghan forces.
© 2011 AFP