Afghan forces besiege insurgents near Indian consulate
January 04 2016 09:07 AM
Indian consulate
Members of Afghan Quick Reaction Force (QRF) talk among themselves during an operation near the Indian consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif on Monday.


* Gunmen stopped from getting into consulate holed up nearby

* Heavy gunfire as security forces seal off area

* Attack clouds prospects for regional talks  

Afghan special forces fought with insurgents barricaded in a house near the Indian consulate in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif on Monday after an overnight attack that coincided with an assault on an Indian air base near the border with Pakistan.

As the battle stretched into the afternoon, soldiers entered the building, a large structure formerly used as an office by US development agency USAID, where between four and six attackers had locked themselves inside a safe room.

The attack began late on Sunday after gunmen tried unsuccessfully to break into the consulate, taking advantage of the fact that many people were watching the final of a football championship between Afghanistan and India.

After a heavy exchange of fire that went on until well into the night, security forces suspended operations before resuming in the morning, firing rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns at the building.

"The area is sealed off and we are proceeding cautiously and making all possible efforts to protect the lives of those in the area. The attackers will be killed," the provincial governor, Atta Mohammad Noor, said on his Facebook page.

Gunfire rang out as a helicopters circled overhead in a residential area of the city, in Balkh province, bordering Uzbekistan.

At least four civilians and six security force personnel were wounded but the Indian ambassador said all the consulate staff were safe. There was no confirmation of any killed or wounded among the attackers.

Noor blamed "enemies of peace and stability" for the attack, which came amid renewed efforts to lower tension between India and its rival Pakistan and restart peace talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

But there was no more concrete indication of who may have been responsible.

Last month, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Kabul and Islamabad on the same day, underlining the drive to improve stability and overcome the longstanding hostility in the region.

However, Sunday's attack and a separate assault on an Indian air base in Pathankot, in the northwest Indian state of Punjab, underlined how difficult that process is likely to be.

As the attack in Mazar-i-Sharif began, Indian security forces were still engaged in mopping up the insurgents in Pathankot.

In 2014, India's consulate in the western Afghan city of Herat was hit by heavily armed insurgents including suicide bombers, one of a series of attacks on Indian diplomatic stations in Afghanistan over previous years.

Pakistan has long been suspicious of India's engagement with Afghanistan and its diplomatic presence there.

In Kabul, a suicide bomber in a car blew himself up close to a police checkpoint near the airport on Monday but caused no other casualties, police said.  

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