Gunmen stormed an education department compound in Afghanistan's restive east today and were battling security forces in an ongoing attack that has left at least two people dead, officials said. Five others have been wounded in the second attack in Jalalabad city in as many days and a number of employees were trapped inside the building, Nangarhar provincial governor spokesman Attaullah Khogyani told AFP. Security forces were trying to clear the militants from the compound and rescue the workers. It was not clear how many gunmen or employees were inside.
A security guard employed by the department was among the dead, Khogyani said. Jalalabad health director Najibullah Kamawal confirmed five wounded people had been brought to hospital so far. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the raid. Nangarhar's provincial capital has seen an uptick in violence in recent weeks, with the Islamic State group claiming most of the attacks. On Tuesday, a suicide attack in the city killed at least 12 people and ignited a nearby petrol station, with witnesses describing screaming victims "swallowed" by flames.
The bomber was targeting Afghan security forces when he blew himself up. Ten civilians were among the dead. IS claimed that attack via its Amaq propaganda agency. The group has claimed a series of high-casualty suicide bomb attacks in the province in recent weeks, as US and Afghan forces continue offensive operations against the group. While the Taliban is Afghanistan's largest militant group, IS has a relatively small but potent presence, mainly in the north and east of the country. Today's attack comes a day after President Ashraf Ghani flew to Brussels to attend a NATO summit where he will be hoping to get a greater commitment from members to the nearly 17-year conflict.
Currently, there are about 14,000 US troops in Afghanistan, providing the main component of the NATO mission there to support and train local forces. The attack also coincides with the start of a university entrance exam for more than 16,000 students in Jalalabad, but it was not clear if the two events were linked. The attack comes exactly a month after militants raided the education department in the city. In that incident a suicide bomber blew himself up at the entrance to the department, triggering a fierce battle between gunmen and security forces. At least 10 people were wounded after terrified employees jumped out of the windows.
A recent ceasefire between Afghan security forces and the Taliban during the Islamic holiday Eid had raised hopes that an end to hostilities in the war-weary country was possible. Since then, however, the Taliban has returned to the battlefield and IS, which was not involved in the truce, has continued to carry out deadly attacks. Nangarhar borders Pakistan, which has been under growing US pressure to crack down on extremist groups operating in the country. Pakistan has long been accused of supporting the Afghan Taliban and providing safe haven to its leaders, charges Islamabad denies. Pakistan, in return, has accused Afghanistan of sheltering the Pakistani Taliban.