Militants attack American university in Kabul

Explosions and gunfire rocked the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul on Wednesday, prompting desperate students trapped inside classrooms to plead for help, in the latest militant attack in the Afghan capital.

AFP| Updated: Aug 24, 2016, 23:07 PM IST
Militants attack American university in Kabul
Afghan security forces rush to respond to a complex Taliban attack on the campus of the American University in the Afghan capital Kabul on Aug 24, 2016.

Kabul: Explosions and gunfire rocked the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul on Wednesday, prompting desperate students trapped inside classrooms to plead for help, in the latest militant attack in the Afghan capital.

No group has so far claimed responsibility for the assault, which comes just weeks after two university professors - an American and an Australian - were kidnapped at gunpoint near the school.

Dozens of soldiers cordoned off the area after the attack started on Wednesday evening, when the elite private university is usually packed with students, many of them working professionals doing part-time courses at the facility. 

"I heard explosions and gunfire is going on close by... our class is filled with smoke and dust," an anxious student told AFP by telephone.

"We are stuck inside and very afraid."

Many other trapped students were tweeting desperate messages for help. Among them was Associated Press photojournalist Massoud Hossaini.

"#AUAF under attack. I along with my friends escaped and several other of my friends and professors trapped inside," Kabul-based journalist Ahmad Mukhtar tweeted.

The Italian-run Emergency Hospital in Kabul tweeted that at least five wounded people had been brought to the facility for treatment. 

The attack, which underscores the worsening security situation in Afghanistan, comes as Taliban insurgents step up their summer fighting season against the Western-backed Kabul government.The management of the American University of Afghanistan, which opened in 2006 and enrols more than 1,700 students, was not immediately reachable for comment.

The foreign professors at the university were seized from their vehicle on August 7, as the kidnappers smashed the passenger window and hauled them away at gunpoint.
It appeared to be the first reported abduction related to a private university in Afghanistan. 

No group has publicly claimed responsibility for the abductions so far, the latest in a series of kidnappings in the conflict-torn country. 

The Afghan capital is infested with organised criminal gangs who stage kidnappings for ransom, often targeting foreigners and wealthy Afghans, and sometimes handing them over to insurgent groups.

The uptick in violence comes as the Taliban escalate nationwide attacks.

Afghan forces backed by US troops are seeking to head off a potential Taliban takeover of Lashkar Gah, the capital of the southern opium-rich province of Helmand as fighting intensifies.

A roadside bomb killed an American soldier on Tuesday near the city, and left another American and six Afghan soldiers wounded, the US-led NATO coalition said.

The turmoil convulsing Helmand, blighted by a huge opium harvest that helps fund the insurgency, has left thousands of people displaced, sparking a humanitarian crisis as officials report food and water shortages.

The Taliban have also closed in on Kunduz -- the northern city they briefly seized last year in their biggest military victory so far -- leaving Afghan forces stretched on multiple fronts.

But coalition forces have insisted that neither Kunduz nor Lashkar Gah are at risk of falling to the insurgents.