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Taliban spring offensive under way

The Taliban has unleashed a wave of attacks across Afghanistan to mark the start of its spring offensive. Fighters stormed a government building in the east, where they killed two police guards and five civilians, and attacked a police checkpoint to the south, killing nine officers.

Also, rockets hit inside the grounds of Kabul international airport but caused no damage. Rockets also struck the Nato base at Bagram, just north of the Afghan capital, causing minor damage, the alliance said.

This year’s Taliban spring offensive comes at a sensitive time, against the backdrop of a key presidential election. Militants have also stepped up terror attacks to sow insecurity and weaken the government as international forces prepare to withdraw from the country by the end of this year.

Fewer than 30,000 US troops remain on the ground in Afghanistan, the lowest number since the 2001 invasion.

Last summer, Afghan security forces took full responsibility for the country’s defence, making this Taliban spring offensive an important gauge of how well they will face insurgent attacks once international forces are gone.

The attack on the provincial justice ministry building in the city of Jalalabad began at around 9am, just as employees were arriving for work, said Nangarhar provincial government spokesman Ahmad Zia Abdulzai.

According to the spokesman and the provincial police chief, three attackers shot and killed the two police guards, broke into the ministry and took over the building.

One of the attackers died when he detonated his explosives vest inside the ministry, while the other two were killed by police, said General Fazel Ahmad Sherzad, Nangarhar’s police chief.

Security forces retook the building after a shoot-out with the Taliban, four and a half hours later.

Inside, five civilians were found dead and seven others were wounded. It was not immediately clear if the victims inside were all government employees and if more people had been in the building when it came under attack.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack. He said the attack was retaliation for what he called harsh rulings by the justice ministry against the Taliban.

In southern Helmand province – the Taliban heartland – insurgents killed nine police officers in an attack on a checkpoint in the Sangin district, district governor Sulaiman Shah Sarwani said.

Also on Monday, a rocket hit a market in the Siagred district of Parwan province, north of Kabul, killing two civilians and wounding four. The Taliban also claimed responsibility for that attack.

Elsewhere in the east, groups of militants, including some on motorbikes, attacked police checkpoints on the outskirts of the city of Ghazni, killing three people and wounding eight, said the provincial governor, Mohammad Ali Ahmadi.

Two women and a policeman were killed, while two policemen and six civilians, including three children, were wounded, he added.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the Ghazni attack.

Elsewhere in Jalalabad, attackers targeted a police vehicle and detonated a roadside bomb, wounding six people, including two policemen.

In the capital, Kabul, two rockets fired from unknown location landed inside the perimeter of the city’s international airport without causing any damage, Kabul police spokesman Hashmat Stanikzai said.

To the north of the city, four rockets struck the Bagram military airbase, 30 miles from Kabul, resulting in minor damage to equipment and a building, said the international coalition.

In past years, the spring season has seen a significant upsurge in fighting between the Taliban and Nato forces and their local allies.

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