KABUL // Gunfire and explosions rocked Kabul on Thursday as Taliban militants attacked a central district that houses several embassies and foreign compounds, hours after a suicide bomber targeted a British embassy vehicle that killed six people.
Attacks across Kabul have increased in recent weeks as US-led Nato forces prepare to wrap up their 13-year combat mission against Taliban insurgents at the end of this year.
Fears are growing that Afghanistan could tip into a cycle of violence as the Nato military presence declines, with the national security forces already suffering high battlefield casualties.
Sporadic gunfire and grenade blasts erupted for at least 45 minutes in the Afghan capital on Thursday evening, though the target was not confirmed.
The attack came hours after a suicide bomber rammed his explosives-packed car into a British embassy vehicle in Kabul, killing one Briton and five Afghans.
The Taliban used a recognised Twitter account to say they were behind both attacks.
At least eight blasts have hit Kabul over the last 10 days, including attacks on foreign compounds and on a female Afghan member of parliament who was injured in a suicide bombing that targeted her car.
Afghanistan suffered its deadliest attack of 2014 on Sunday when a suicide bomber struck at a volleyball match in the eastern province of Paktika, killing 57 people.
About 12,500 foreign troops are set to stay on into 2015 after the Nato combat mission ends, to train and support the Afghan army and police.
A British security contractor and an Afghan employee of the British embassy died in the blast on Thursday, which hit their vehicle on a stretch of road notorious for suicide attacks.
At least four Afghan bystanders were also killed, and more than 30 others injured including five children.
Zarif Khan, a shopkeeper, said: “I was selling groceries when I heard this big bang, and then I saw injured people and pieces of metal all around me.”
British foreign secretary Philip Hammond condemned the attack on the embassy vehicle as “senseless and cowardly”.
“It reminds us once again of the risks our personnel take every day to keep trying to help Afghans build a better future – and by helping them do so, protect our own security and own interests,” he said at a press conference in Rome.
A second British contractor with security firm G4S was injured in the bombing, which threw the embassy’s 4x4 vehicle onto its side.
The roof was blown off and car parts scattered across the Jalalabad road, a main route where many fortified compounds and military facilities are located.
President Ashraf Ghani, who came to power in September, has vowed to bring peace to Afghanistan after decades of conflict, saying he is open to talks with the Taliban, who ruled Kabul from 1996 to 2001.
Mr Ghani finally emerged as president after signing a power-sharing deal with his poll rival Abdullah Abdullah.
Both men claimed to have won fraud-tainted elections in a prolonged stand-off that caused political paralysis in Kabul and fuelled worsening violence nationwide.
The UK hosts a major donor conference on Afghanistan next week, which was meant to showcase Mr Ghani’s “national unity government” and demonstrate continuing international support for the country.
Just this week, Britain ended its 13-year military presence in southern Afghanistan when the last Royal Air Force personnel departed Kandahar airfield.
The British military contribution next year will be the supervision of an officers’ training academy outside Kabul.
* Agence France-Presse