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Taliban storm German consulate in Afghan city, 4 killed (Update)

Afghan security forces and NATO troops arrive at the site of explosion near the German consulate office in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan November 11, 2016. REUTERS/Anil Usyan

Taliban militants stormed the German consulate in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif, ramming its outer wall with a truck bomb before battling security forces in a late-night attack that killed at least four people, officials said.

The explosion, triggered by a suicide bomber, caused extensive damage to the building and shattered windows as far as 5 km away, a NATO spokesman said. A local doctor said the blast and subsequent firefight also wounded 120 people.

No consular staff were among the victims, but Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Germany would review its lead role in the international mission in northern Afghanistan, where violence has escalated sharply during 2016.

Thursday’s attack also underlines one of the tougher foreign policy challenges facing US President-elect Donald Trump when he takes office in January. US combat operations against the Taliban largely ended in 2014, but thousands of its soldiers remain in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led Resolute Support mission.

The Taliban said the attack was in retaliation for NATO air strikes against a village near the northern city of Kunduz last week in which more than 30 people, many of them children, were killed.

Heavily armed fighters, including suicide bombers, had been sent “with a mission to destroy the German consulate general and kill whoever they found there”, the Islamist militant movement’s spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said by telephone.

Taliban forces came close to over-running Kunduz last month, a year after briefly capturing it in their biggest success in Afghanistan’s 15-year-long war.

HUGE BLAST

The NATO spokesman said at least one vehicle packed with explosives was rammed into the high outer wall surrounding the consulate, but authorities were investigating if a second car had been involved.

“The extent of damage to the city is huge,” said Abdul Razaq Qaderi, deputy police chief of Balkh province. “This kind of an attack, bringing a truck full of explosives and blowing it up in the city, had never happened before.

“The city is still recovering from the shock.”

Noor Mohammad Faiz, the head doctor in Mazar-i-Sharif hospital, said four bodies and 120 wounded, most hurt by flying glass, had been brought to the hospital.

Qaderi said German troops had shot two men on motorcycles who did not comply with orders to stop. German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said that incident was being investigated.

Foreign Minister Steinmeier said six people were killed. All German consular employees were safe and uninjured, he added.

After coordinating the response on Thursday, the government’s crisis task force was meeting again Friday and would review Germany’s role in the Afghan mission.

“It was only possible to defeat the attackers and beat them back after fighting that occurred at the compound and in the building,” Steinmeier said.

Germany, which heads Resolute Support in northern Afghanistan, has about 850 soldiers at a base on the outskirts of Mazar-i-Sharif, with another 1,000 troops coming from 20 partner countries.

INTO THE EARLY HOURS

The explosion occurred about an hour before midnight local time, a spokesman for the German military joint forces command in Potsdam said.

Witnesses reported sporadic gunfire from around the consulate and said the blast had shattered windows in a wide area around the compound.

“It was a prepared attack for which we made all arrangements,” the Taliban’s Mujahid said. “First a suicide bomber driving an explosives-laden vehicle rammed the main building of the consulate and that enabled other fighters to move in and kill all the foreigners there.”

He said dozens of German soldiers and intelligence personnel were killed in the attack. The Taliban often exaggerate casualties caused by its operations.

After Afghan special forces, German security personnel and NATO’s quick reaction protection force intervened, fighting was over by the early hours of the morning, said Sayed Kamal Sadat, police chief of Balkh.

At least one suspect was arrested from the area of explosion, officials said.

The heavily protected consulate is in a large building close to the Blue Mosque in the centre of Mazar-i-Sharif, where the Indian consulate was also attacked by militant gunmen earlier this year.

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