Militants Storm British Council in Afghan Capital

Posted August 19th, 2011 at 12:50 pm (UTC-5)
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Suicide bombers have stormed Britain's cultural center in the Afghan capital, triggering hours of fighting that killed nine people, including a NATO soldier.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for Friday's attack, which took place as Afghanistan celebrated the 92nd anniversary of the country's independence from Britain.

The siege of the British Council offices in Kabul began when one of the bombers detonated a car full of explosives outside the main gate, while another suicide bomber struck inside the complex.

Three other militants got inside and engaged in an eight-hour gunfight with Afghan security forces. NATO forces responded, providing support to Afghan police and troops. The attack ended when all the militants were killed.

Nine people, including Afghan police and security guards and a special forces soldier from New Zealand, were killed in the assault. At least 16 people were wounded.

Three Westerners were inside the British Council offices when Friday's siege began. British officials say the two British teachers and a South African took refuge in a “safe room” before being rescued by Afghan and international forces.

British Ambassador to Afghanistan William Patey said no British nationals were hurt in the attack.

Speaking to reporters, Patey said that what he called a “dastardly, cowardly attack designed to attack British interests” had ultimately ended with the deaths of many Afghans.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said the tragic attack would not stop Britain's vital work in bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan. Mr. Cameron also spoke with New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key and thanked him for the role New Zealand's special forces played in ending the assault.

Both NATO and Afghan President Hamid Karzai also condemned the attack.

The deputy director of the British Council in Kabul, Dawoud Rasoul, told VOA that despite the attack on the council's compound, its cultural programs for Afghans, especially for young people, would continue. The council assists the Afghan education ministry and also provides scholarships for Afghan youths at British universities.

Britain is the second largest provider of forces to the international coalition in Afghanistan. There are around 9,500 troops British troops in the country, mainly in the south.

Violence in Afghanistan is at its worst since the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001. In the south, NATO said a roadside bomb killed one of its soldiers on Friday.

The attacks come as international forces begin pulling out of Afghanistan and transferring security responsibility to their Afghan counterparts. All foreign combat troops are set to leave the country by the end of 2014.