Taliban suicide bombers and gunmen stormed a US contracting company office in northern Afghanistan on Friday, killing five people including three foreigners and wounding 24 others, a senior official said.
The pre-dawn attack happened in relatively peaceful Kunduz province when insurgents attacked the newly-opened offices of Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI), provincial governor Mohammad Omar told Reuters.
One British citizen was killed during the fierce five-hour gunbattle that ensued, along with a German national and a Filipino, while two Afghans also died, Omar said.
"Our security forces managed to rescue around eight American workers inside the compound," he said.
According to its website (http://www.dai.com), the company is one of USAID's principal service providers and specializes in post-conflict reconstruction, local government, agribusiness and natural resource management.
At least one of the bombers blew himself up in front of the gate to allow other fighters to push inside, triggering a fierce five-hour gunbattle with security guards and police who surrounded the building, Omar said.
Afghan police and security guards battled insurgents for most of the morning before the attackers were killed, Omar said. Foreign workers fled to the roof of the five-story building for safety as the battle continued in floors below.
International troops helped Afghan security forces ferry wounded civilians to a nearby military base for emergency care, a coalition military spokeswoman said in a statement.
A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said at least six suicide bombers and fighters were involved in the attack in a province mainly patrolled by German forces under NATO-command.
Insurgents have managed to infiltrate remote villages and districts in the province as they seek to push their reach and influence beyond traditional strongholds in the south ahead of a looming "surge" offensive by US-led coalition forces.
The latest attack comes as newly-appointed US and NATO forces commander General David Petraeus arrived in the country to oversee the fight against the Taliban and try to reverse the insurgency's momentum.