Two Taliban militants hiding handguns in their shoes infiltrated a government compound in southern Afghanistan on Saturday in an attempt to assassinate a provincial governor, setting off a fierce gunbattle that left two security guards and both attackers dead.
The assailants passed through a pair of security checks without their weapons being detected before a guard at the last check -- in the reception room for the governor's office -- noticed something suspicious and stopped them, said Gov. Tooryalai Wesa, the apparent target of the attack. The militants then pulled the guns out of their shoes, shot the guards and took their weapons, he said.
That sparked a shoot-out with security forces that lasted about 30 minutes and left both attackers dead, said Parwiz Najib, a spokesman for the governor. One guard was wounded in the fighting.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi claimed responsibility for the attack.
The Taliban routinely target Afghan officials in an attempt to weaken the resolve of a government they say is collaborating with foreign occupiers. Wesa's office said in a statement that Saturday's attack was the ninth to target the governor in the past three years.
The assault serves as a reminder of the insurgents' ability to strike in even some of the most secure areas of the country. Earlier this month, militants launched a large-scale coordinated attack on the diplomatic center of the capital, Kabul, and three other cities in which 36 insurgents and 11 others were killed.
Such attacks have raised doubts about the readiness of the Afghan government to take control of security as international forces draw down over the next two years.
Afghanistan's international allies have stressed that they do not plan to abandon the country in 2014 and will provide the support needed to help Afghanistan protect its people. Most recently, the U.S. and Afghan governments agreed on a deal earlier this week for a U.S. presence in the country through 2024.
Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., discussed the long-term pact with President Hamid Karzai on Saturday during an unannounced visit to Kabul. Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has repeatedly served as a White House emissary to Afghanistan and Pakistan.