Kandahar: Insurgents launched a brazen attack on the governor of Kandahar`s home compound on Saturday, with loud explosions heard in the southern Afghan city and at least three civilians wounded as gunmen holed up in a shopping mall battled security forces.
One explosion was heard near Governor Tooryalai Wesa`s heavily guarded compound in the center of the city and another blast was heard minutes later in the west of the city, a witness and official said.
Shooting erupted after the first explosion and the witness said he could see gunmen firing from the shopping mall at the governor`s compound, from where security forces were returning fire as helicopters circled overhead.
"The Taliban are attacking the governor`s compound and the fighting is still ongoing. Three civilians in the compound have been wounded but the governor`s staff are all fine," Wesa`s spokesman, Zalmai Ayoubi, said from inside the compound.
It was not immediately clear what had caused the explosions. The witness said he could see black smoke rising near Wesa`s compound, which also surrounds the governor`s house. Ayoubi said the Governor was inside and unhurt.
The Taliban last week announced the start of their "spring offensive", vowing to scale up their attacks against foreign troops and Afghan government officials. Those threats were reissued after the killing of allied al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in neighbouring Pakistan.
A Taliban spokesman said the militant group had carried out the attack but said it was unrelated to bin Laden`s death.
"A number of fighters are in several locations around the city. These are not retaliatory attacks for the death of Osama bin Laden but are part of our spring offensive," Qari Yousuf Ahmadi said from an undisclosed location.
Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, has been the focus of military operations over the past year and military commanders have said they have made some security gains, but that these were fragile and reversible.
Violence in Afghanistan reached its worst levels in 2010 since the Taliban were overthrown in late 2001, with record casualties on all sides of the conflict.
Last month, hundreds of prisoners, mostly insurgents, escaped from a jail in Kandahar through a tunnel dug by Taliban militants, which Afghan President Hamid Karzai`s spokesman described as a "disaster" for the government.
Days before that, a suicide bomber wearing a police uniform killed Gen. Khan Mohammed Mujahid, the Kandahar police chief.
The Taliban have managed to carry out a number of high-profile attacks inside Kandahar city and in the capital, Kabul, over the past year despite Afghan and foreign forces beefing up security around both cities.
The Taliban issued a statement late on Friday expressing their condolences for the death of bin Laden, who was killed in a US raid inside Pakistan on Monday, but said his death would only revive their fight in Afghanistan.