KABUL, Afghanistan — Two suicide bombers and militants armed with heavy weapons launched twin attacks targeting the Afghan government and its allies Thursday, killing at least 19 people in the latest outburst of violence weakening the government’s grip on the Taliban’s southern heartland.
Insurgents have been assassinating Afghan officials and attacking government installations to demonstrate they remain a potent force despite pressure from the U.S.-led military coalition. They are also out to show Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s administration is too weak to provide security as foreign troops begin to withdraw from the war.
The hours-long battle in Tarin Kot, the capital of Uruzgan province, began around noon when a suicide attacker in a car laden with explosives rammed a wall of the governor’s compound, provincial spokesman Milad Ahmad Mudasir said. Other insurgents entered the governor’s compound through the damaged wall and fought Afghan security forces.
At roughly the same time, a second suicide bomber targeted the nearby compound of Matiullah Khan, a power broker in Uruzgan who runs a company that provides security for NATO supply convoys and assists coalition forces.
He blew up an explosives-packed car outside a radio and television center attached to the compound to gain access to Khan’s property, Mudasir said. Khan was unharmed.
“There are rumors that I’ve been killed or wounded,” he told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “I am perfectly all right.”
The Taliban claimed responsibility, saying six suicide bombers conducted the attacks. The initial explosions were followed by heavy gun battles between militants and Afghan security forces and guards working for the private security company.
Earlier reports indicated that three different suicide bombers struck the governor’s house, Matiullah Khan’s compound and the police headquarters. The police headquarters, however, is part of the governor’s compound.
A day earlier, a suicide bomber hiding explosives inside his turban killed the mayor of Kandahar, the capital of neighboring Kandahar province. The death of the mayor, Ghulam Haider Hamidi, deepened a power vacuum in the south in the wake of this month’s slaying of the president’s half brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai.
Wali Karzai was gunned down July 12 at his home in Kandahar by a close associate. Five days later, Karzai’s inner circle suffered another hit when gunmen in Kabul killed Jan Mohammad Khan, a presidential adviser on tribal issues and a former governor of Uruzgan province.
President Karzai condemned the attack in Uruzgan, saying that “terrorists” were trying to disrupt efforts for Afghan forces to take charge of security across nation by the end of 2014 when international forces are to end their combat mission.
U.S. Air Force Capt. Justin Brockhoff, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, said Afghan security forces responded to the two attacks and NATO coalition forces provided air support as fighting continued.
Dr. Khan Agha Miakhail, director of the hospital in Tarin Kot, said the 19 people killed included 10 children, a policeman and two women. He said 37 other people were wounded. The Interior Ministry said 21 people were killed and 38 were wounded.
The BBC said its Afghan reporter in the province, 25-year-old Ahmed Omed Khpulwak, was among the dead. Khpulwak was in the radio and television building when it came under attack, said Peter Horrocks, director of BBC Global News.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi called The Associated Press to express sadness over the death of the journalist and accused pro-government forces of killing him.
“He was not our target,” Ahmadi said, adding that the Taliban were fighting the police.
In other violence Thursday, a NATO service member was killed in a roadside bombing in eastern Afghanistan, raising the total international death toll so far this month to 45, according to an AP tally.
Elsewhere in the south, an Afghan policeman and a civilian were killed Thursday when police were working to detonate roadside bombs in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, said Daud Ahmadi, the provincial spokesman.
Local residents tipped the police about the location of a mine. After that mine was successfully removed, a second one exploded, he said. Two other people, including a policeman, were injured in the explosion.
Khan reported from Kandahar, Afghanistan. Associated Press writer Amir Shah in Kabul contributed to this report.