The Taliban has claimed responsibility for a full-scale militant assault on the US consulate in Afghanistan, in which at least two police officers were killed and some 20 civilians were injured.
The attack began at around 5.30am this morning, when a large van filled with explosives was detonated by its driver in a suicide bombing near the Herat consulate’s front gate.
The explosion breached the outer perimeter of the compound, allowing militants armed with rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles to enter on foot.
They opened fire on the main consulate buildings themselves, and in the ensuing battle at least two Afghans died, one a police officer and the other thought to be a private security guard.
US armed forces were among those who then responded to the threat, and within an hour it had been thwarted and the consulate secured.
General Rahmatullah Safi, Herat province's chief of police, said that five insurgents were shot and killed, in addition to two who died in the initial suicide bombings.
Robert Hilton, a spokesman for the US Embassy in Kabul, said: “All consulate personnel are safe and accounted for.”
In the aftermath of the gunfight a number of civilians, caught in the crossfire, had to be taken to hospital. But it could have been a lot worse – with the attack taking place early on Friday, the day of rest, there were not many people around in the relatively quiet and controlled western city of Herat.
A Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi told The Associated Press shortly afterwards that his organisation was claiming responsibility for the attack.
Around the same time as the Herat incident, a suicide bomber detonated a truck full of explosives near government offices in the eastern province of Paktika, after security personnel opened fire at him.
At least seven members of the Afghan forces were wounded in the explosion, according to officials in the much more troubled region, which borders Pakistan and suffers from a much more active militancy.
The two attacks today were stark reminders of the difficulties faced by Afghanistan as Nato forces continue to withdraw from the country.
The nation had enjoyed a brief respite for widespread celebrations on Wednesday and Thursday after the national football team won its first ever victory in a competitive international fixture, beating India 2-0 in the South Asian Football Federation Championship.