Published on Monday, August 18, 2003 by the Philadelphia Inquirer
22 die as Rebels Attack Police Facility in Afghanistan
by Todd Pitman
KABUL, Afghanistan - Hundreds of insurgents in a convoy of trucks attacked a police headquarters in southeastern Afghanistan yesterday, triggering a gun battle that killed 22 people, officials said. It was one of the largest shows of antigovernment force in over a year.
The fierce fighting in Paktika province was the latest in a wave of violence that has underscored just how unstable Afghanistan remains after U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban in late 2001.
The assault began shortly before midnight Saturday, when about 400 guerrillas traveling in trucks drove across the border from Pakistan and attacked the police headquarters in the province's Barmal district, about 125 miles southeast of Kabul, provincial Gov. Mohammed Ali Jalali said. It was not clear how he knew that the men came from Pakistan.
Firing rockets, heavy machine guns and grenades, the attackers easily took over the office. About 15 to 20 Afghan police were in the compound at the time, and seven of them - including the district police chief - were killed, Jalali said. The rest, realizing that they could put up little resistance, fled.
Jalali said that 15 insurgents were killed. The provincial police chief, Daulat Khan, said the attackers retreated with the bodies.
"These police died defending themselves," Jalali said from the provincial capital, Sharan. "The attackers - they were a very big group."
Jalali said the insurgents held the police station until dawn yesterday before destroying the building, getting back in their vehicles, and fleeing to Pakistan, five miles away.
It was unclear why the attackers retreated, but Jalali said they likely did so because by daylight, word of the attack would have been passed on to the U.S.-led coalition, against which they would have been outmatched.
Coalition forces have air power at their disposal and routinely use it when insurgent positions are identified.
Previous battles between insurgents and government forces backed by the U.S.-led coalition had rarely involved more than 80 guerrilla fighters.
Jalali said the insurgents included Taliban forces and fighters loyal to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a former prime minister who heads Hezb-e-Islami, a faction that has called for attacks against foreigners in Afghanistan. Jalali blamed Pakistan's intelligence service for playing a role in organizing the assault.
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