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Page last updated at 14:27 GMT, Tuesday, 21 July 2009 15:27 UK

Afghan cities attacked by Taliban

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Five Afghan security personnel have died in a series of Taliban strikes in eastern Afghanistan, officials say.

Gunmen and suicide bombers targeted four sites in the city of Gardez, among them the governor's compound. Four bombers were reported killed.

During an attack in Jalalabad, near the Pakistan border, at least one militant was killed and another captured.

The battles come amid a spike of violence in the country ahead of elections on 20 August.

Taliban militants have carried out similar co-ordinated attacks on provincial cities in recent months.

In May, six people were killed when militants launched simultaneous assaults on government buildings in the city of Khost, also in eastern Afghanistan.

Shootout

In Gardez, the militants attacked the police chief's office, a police station and the intelligence directorate, as well as the governor's compound, Afghan officials said.

A Taliban spokesman said 15 militants, all wearing suicide vests, planned to launch attacks in the city. Afghan officials refused to comment on that claim.

Taliban militants in Ghazni province (file image from 2008)

Reports said at least two of the attackers carried their bombs underneath burkas, the all-enveloping dress often worn by Afghan women.

A local trader said there was panic and confusion.

"I was at my shop and I suddenly heard a loud explosion and then gunshots. I saw fire being exchanged between the police and attackers," the trader told the BBC.

In a statement, the defence ministry said four militants were killed in a shootout and two blew themselves up.

Officials confirmed to the BBC that five Afghan security personnel had been killed.

An Afghan doctor at the hospital in Gardez told the BBC he had received four bodies, all of military personnel.

Meanwhile in Jalalabad at least two militants tried to attack an airport which is a base for Afghan and foreign troops.

Nato-led forces said one blew himself up and another was captured. An Afghan official said one policeman was killed, but that was not confirmed.

Troops 'must stay'

Earlier, a British soldier was killed in an explosion in Helmand province in the south of the country.

He was the 18th British soldier to be killed in Afghanistan this month. The deaths of four US soldiers were announced on Monday.

Also on Monday, Nato head Jaap de Hoop Scheffer warned that walking away from the war would have a "devastating" effect, allowing extremism to overwhelm Afghanistan and spread further into Pakistan and Central Asia.

The fight in Afghanistan, he said, was essential to the security of Nato members.

"Those who argue otherwise - who say we can defend against terrorism from home - are simply burying their heads in the sand," he said.



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