KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Suicide bombers blew themselves up at the gate of a government compound in eastern Afghanistan before dawn Friday, opening the way for armed insurgents to storm the facility and touching off an hours-long gunbattle that left 10 people dead, officials said.
The 17 militants attacked the compound in Nuristan province's Kamdesh district around 3 a.m., said provincial Gov. Tamim Nuristani. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but it matched the pattern of Taliban assaults that typically target Afghan government installations or the U.S.-led international military coalition.
The remote district along the Pakistani border was the site of one of the deadliest attacks on American forces in the Afghan war. In October 2009, hundreds of insurgents stormed the base with rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and guns. When the fighting was over, about 150 insurgents were dead but so were eight Americans and three Afghan soldiers.
The U.S. later withdrew from Nuristan province, saying that it was not strategically important to have soldiers stationed there and that it could be covered with troops based in nearby provinces.
Friday's attack came as a spike in violence in recent weeks has raised concern about the readiness of Afghan forces to take over responsibility for their own security as foreign combat troops prepare to withdraw from the country by the end of 2014.
Nuristani said NATO planes provided some air support during Friday's attack, but it was limited to one morning bombing run. The battle continued for hours after that, he said.
The compound includes both the district government's offices and the homes of district officials and police. The dead included four women, along with three policemen and three members of a government-sponsored militia, authorities said.
The insurgents appeared to be targeting the house of the district government administrator, Nuristani said.
Another 16 people were wounded, provincial police chief Gulamullah Nuristani said.
The sound of gunfire, mortar shells or rocket-propelled grenades rocked the area as police and soldiers fought the attackers. The gunfight finally ended when the last militants were killed in the late afternoon, the governor said.
Insurgent activity usually increases with the warm summer weather in Afghanistan, but the surge this year has been particularly large. Data from the NATO military coalition in Afghanistan show that attacks increased sharply in May compared with same time of year in 2011, from around 2,500 incidents to around 3,000. Statistics for June were not yet available.