36 dead in Afghan Taliban attack
Khost - The Taliban attacked an Afghan road construction company early on Thursday, triggering an hours-long firefight that killed 36 people and wounded another 20 in the worst single attack for months.
The attack happened in the eastern province of Paktia, which borders Pakistan, at around and lasted for several hours, a provincial spokesperson said.
It is thought to be the highest single death toll in a Taliban attack since the militant Islamists struck at a bank in Jalalabad, also in the east, in February, killing 38 people including police collecting their salaries.
"A large group of Taliban attacked a road construction company in Paktia province," said Paktia provincial spokesperson Rohullah Samoon.
"Thirty-five guards and staff of the company were killed and 20 were injured. There were casualties on the Taliban side as well." Samoon added that eight Taliban were killed.
The director of the Afghan company targeted, Galaxy Sky, said the death toll was in fact 36 and included a Pakistani national.
Government projects targeted
"They (the Taliban) destroyed a lot of our equipment including vehicles and equipment used for road construction," Noorullah Bidar said.
"We don't know why they attacked us... they are doing this to prevent reconstruction in Afghanistan."
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said the movement carried out the attack, killing 40 people and torching four vehicles.
He did not mention any Taliban casualties. The militia is known frequently to exaggerate its claims.
The militants have made Afghan government projects a prime target in a bid to undermine the authority of President Hamid Karzai's administration and have repeatedly kidnapped foreign road construction workers from camps in the past.
The Taliban have been waging a 10-year battle to evict foreign troops stationed in Afghanistan in the wake of the 2001 US-led invasion that toppled their extremist Islamist regime from power for sheltering Osama bin Laden.
The attack comes a few weeks after they announced the start of their annual spring offensive at the end of April.
There are currently around 130 000 US-led international troops in the troubled country although limited troop withdrawals are due to start from a handful of safer areas in July.
This is ahead of a scheduled full withdrawal of combat troops in 2014, although there have been calls for this timetable to be speeded up in the wake of the killing of the al-Qaeda leader by US forces in Pakistan on May 2.
US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates said this week that accelerating troop withdrawals from Afghanistan because of bin Laden's death would be "premature".
Paktia, which borders Pakistan's lawless border regions where Taliban are known to have rear bases, is a highly volatile province frequently hit by violence and cross-border attacks.