ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN — A group of Taliban suicide bombers stormed the headquarters of traffic police in Kabul early on Monday, the second such attack in the Afghan capital in less than a week. Authorities say security forces killed all the attackers while three police officers also died in the gun battle, which lasted nine hours. Meanwhile, the government of President Hamid Karzai has rejected a new U.N. report that says torture remains endemic in a number of detention centers in Afghanistan.
The brazen coordinated Taliban assault began with a car bomb that targeted the main gate of the traffic police headquarters in Kabul to clear the way for the attackers to enter the building.
Afghan officials report that after killing officers deployed at the facility's front checkpoint, the group of heavily armed militants, who were wearing suicide vests, rushed into the compound. They say the raid set off a fierce gun battle between the militants and Afghan security forces.
Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqi later told reporters that three bombers blew themselves up during the firefight, while police commandos fatally shot the last two insurgents who were holed up inside the building.
The spokesman said that the fighting also left three policemen dead, and that most of those wounded are civilians. He added that Afghan security forces conducted the operation without assistance from NATO.
Speaking to reporters at a separate news conference in Kabul earlier in the day, Brigadier-General Gunter Katz, spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force or ISAF, explained the circumstances that led to the second brazen militant attack in the city within a week.
“The more and more the Afghan security forces are getting into the lead, the more they are targeted by the insurgents. Notwithstanding that, the Afghan security forces are doing great job pressuring the insurgency," said Katz. "We will continue to train them to assist and advise them and we are confident that they will be very capable when taking over the full security of Afghanistan in the middle of this year.”
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed the group was responsible for the attack, saying it was meant to target, in his words, a police training facility “run by foreign military forces.”
In a similar attack on Wednesday, a group of Taliban suicide bombers stormed the gates of the National Directorate of Security, the Afghan intelligence agency also known as the NDS. That incident left one security guard dead while a number of others were wounded.
The latest attack comes a day after a new U.N. report accused Afghan authorities of not doing enough to stop abuses in 34 prisons under the control of the police and the NDS.
Katz also commented on the allegations of human rights violations in prisons documented by the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, or UNAMA.
“Based on information provided by UNAMA, which ISAF determined to be credible, ISAF suspended the transfer of detainees to the Afghan facilities identified in the report,” he said.
However, the Afghan government has rejected the U.N. report, claiming that despite the limited resources and facilities in Afghan prisons, significant steps have been taken to improve the situation.
Fired for 'misbehavior'
Sediqi said that last year alone some 200 officials across the country were fired from their jobs for “misbehaving” with prisoners. He acknowledged some incidents of “misbehavior” by the police, but denied they included torture.
“That’s why we do not agree with the claims that have come in this [UNAMA] report. We reject that and we are ready to work together if there are proofs, evidence and documents that can show a torturer in one of the detention centers. We are committed to the laws, legislations not only [of] the Afghan constitution but those internationally accepted legislations against violence [in prisons],” said Sediqi.
NATO-led troops have been gradually handing over hundreds of detainees to Afghan control ahead of the withdrawal of most international forces from Afghanistan by the end of next year.
The U.N. report says that a third of all detainees recently transferred to Afghan control have been tortured and that the NDS is operating secret detention centers to avoid international scrutiny.