ISLAMABAD - Afghan security forces Monday killed two armed suicide bombers to end a two-hour siege of a main hospital in the southern city of Kandahar, officials said.
The firefight also left dead an officer of Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS).
The siege began after two assailants wearing suicide vests stormed the Mirwais Hospital compound in Kandahar and opened fire on security guards there, witnesses and officials said.
The assault took place shortly before the provincial governor was due to arrive to inquire about the well-being of patients in connection with Eid festivities, his spokesman, Sameem Khapalwak, told VOA.
He said patients, their attendants and hospital staff were all not harmed.
No claims of responsibility
There were no immediate claims of responsibility, though suspicions fell on the Taliban because Kandahar is known as the birthplace of the Islamist insurgency.
The rebel group has lately intensified activity on battlefields and attacks on Afghan officials. On Sunday, a roadside bomb killed the anti-Taliban police chief of eastern Nangarhar province.
Meanwhile, speaking in Kabul to mark the beginning of the three-day Muslim Eid festival, President Ashraf Ghani promised a long-awaited peace deal with an Afghan insurgent group is close to being finalized.
“There are some problems that would be very important for implementing peace," said Ghani, vowing the issues would be resolved very soon. He did not elaborate.
Months of reconciliation talks with the Hezb-i-Islami Afghanistan (HIA) faction, led by controversial warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, enabled the two sides to agree on a draft peace accord weeks ago.
Ghani praised efforts that have been made by the government-appointed High Peace Council and representatives of Hekmatyar in order to negotiate a peace deal.
"There is hope that, God willing, the agreement will be finalized soon and we will witness a major step towards establishing a peaceful environment and ending the conflict,” said the Afghan president.
The landmark truce was due to be announced last week, but political rivalries within the government forced the delay, claimed Hekmatyar in his Eid message delivered to media late Sunday.
Government blamed for delay
He asserted he signed the document Friday because all issues between his group and the government stand settled.
“But once again problems within the (Afghan) ruling system have prevented it from announcing the deal,” Hekmatyar said.
The notorious commander went on to say he believed continuation of war in Afghanistan “would only serve the interests of internal and external enemies, and not of the Afghan nation.”
Without directly commenting on Hekmatyar’s assertions, President Ghani in his Monday statement suggested there are no problems from the government side.
"I don’t accept any unreasonable hurdle in this sacred process. If there are obstacles in the way of peace, it is my duty as president to share it with the people and urge them to stand united for peace," said Ghani.
Hekmatyar is a longtime guerrilla commander whose forces fought against the Soviet Union in the 1980s, using equipment supplied by the CIA.
Later, his militias battled the Taliban for control of Afghanistan during the brutal civil war of the 1990s. Human rights groups accused Hekmatyar of committing massive rights abuses among other atrocities.
The ethnic Pashtun warlord was designated a "global terrorist" by the United States in 2003 for allegedly participating in and supporting attacks by al-Qaida and Taliban forces against American forces in the country.
Hekmatyar and his commanders are allegedly sheltering in neighboring Pakistan where Taliban leaders also have their sanctuaries; charges Islamabad rejects.
Critics say a peace deal with Hekmatyar’s group, which has fought alongside the Taliban against the U.S.-backed Afghan government, could weaken the Taliban insurgency in parts of Afghanistan and encourage it to come to the table for talks with Kabul.
Unlike the Taliban, influence of Hekmatyar’s group is limited to a very few Afghan provinces.