Afghan forces battle to end siege near India's consulate

2016-01-04 14:59
Afghan security forces inspect the site of a suicide attack near Kabul international airport. (Rahmat Gul, AP)

Afghan security forces inspect the site of a suicide attack near Kabul international airport. (Rahmat Gul, AP)

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Mazar-i-Sharif - Afghan forces battled on Monday to end an hours-long gun and bomb siege near the Indian consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif city, while gunmen launched a lengthy assault on an air base near the India-Pakistan border.

The lethal attacks threaten to derail Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's bold diplomatic outreach to arch-rival Pakistan following his first official visit to Afghanistan last month.

Secure area

No group has so far claimed responsibility for the raid on the diplomatic mission in northern Afghanistan, the latest in a series of assaults on Indian installations in the country.

"Our clearance operation is going on near the consulate," said government spokesperson Munir Farhad.

"Since it is a residential area, we are proceeding very cautiously after overnight fighting to avoid civilian casualties."

An Indian official, who was hunkered down in a secure area within the diplomatic enclave, said all consulate employees were safe and accounted for.

"We are being attacked," the official said by telephone from inside the heavily-guarded compound.

"Fighting is going on," he said soon after the fighting erupted late Sunday evening.

Vikas Swarup, an Indian foreign ministry spokesperson, also told AFP that no Indian casualties had been reported so far.

The attack followed a deadly raid over the weekend by suspected Islamist insurgents on an air force base in the northern Indian state of Punjab.

Seven soldiers were confirmed killed in the raid on the Pathankot base, which triggered a 14-hour gun battle on Saturday and spurred Indian forces to be scrambled again on Sunday.

"The operation continues at the base. (With) intermittent firing... we are moving step by step to sanitise the area," said an army spokesperson.

"It's too early to say when the operation will be over."

Surprise visit

Officials suspect the gunmen belong to the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed, the group that staged the 2001 attack on the Indian parliament which brought the two countries to the brink of war.

The brazen attack - a rare targeting of an Indian military installation outside disputed Kashmir - threatens to undermine the fragile peace process between the nuclear-armed rivals.

The spike in violence comes a week after Modi paid a surprise visit to Pakistan, the first by an Indian premier in 11 years.

The visit immediately followed a whirlwind tour of Kabul, where Modi inaugurated an Indian-built parliament complex and gave three Russian-made helicopters to the Afghan government.

India has been a key supporter of Kabul's post-Taliban government, and analysts have often pointed to the threat of a "proxy war" in Afghanistan between India and Pakistan.

Read more on:    india  |  pakistan  |  afghanistan

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