Afghan security men take position during an exchange of fire with armed insurgents next to the site of a suicide bombe attack, in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Monday, Oct. 31, 2011. (Photo: AP)
Suicide attackers on Monday blew up a truck bomb and raided the offices of a US charity, killing four Afghans in the second attack in recent days on American interests in the city of Kandahar.
One attacker detonated the vehicle outside the offices of US-based International Relief and Development (IRD), before two others entered the compound and fired on security forces, said police and government officials.
The Kandahar government said the attackers struck at 6am (0130 GMT) and that two gunmen remained holed up in a veterinary clinic inside the compound -- which also houses UN offices -- and were shooting at security forces.
"There were three suicide attackers. One exploded in front of the office. The two others entered the compound (wearing suicide vests). They are still alive, but the police are surrounding them," said police spokesman Ghorzang.
Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi said the insurgent group carried out a car bomb attack in Kandahar, the militia's former capital and the largest city in southern Afghanistan, but claimed to have targeted the UN refugee agency.
The bodies of the dead were taken to the nearby Mirwais hospital along with several people wounded in the assault.
"Four bodies, all Afghan civilians, and five people including a Nepali guard have been admitted to our hospital with injuries," said Sardar, a hospital doctor who like many Afghans goes by only one name.
Kandahar provincial police chief Abdul Raziq said three people were killed, including the 6th district police chief of the city who was in plain clothes at the time of the attack.
The United Nations has some offices in the compound but the Kandahar government's media office said the UN properties appeared safe.
According to its website, IRD provides nearly $500 million annually in development assistance to Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East; and works in nearly 40 countries.
The volatile southern city is the birthplace of the Taliban movement, which has been waging bloody battle for a return to power since it was ousted by the US-led invasion in late 2001 following the 9/11 attacks.
The Kandahar area was the focus of a US-led military "surge" of thousands of extra troops ordered into Afghanistan by President Barack Obama in late 2009 as part of a last-ditch military effort to reverse Taliban momentum.
On Sunday, a Kandahar provincial government official and former Taliban shadow governor escaped a roadside bombing in the city with minor injuries.
On Friday, the Taliban launched a major assault on a US-run civilian-military base in Kandahar, sparking a four-hour siege that left one Afghan interpreter dead and eight other people wounded.
In the capital Kabul, the US-led NATO mission saw one of their worst days in the decade-long war on Sunday when a Taliban car bomb attack on a convoy killed 10 Americans, two Britons, a Canadian and four Afghans.
There is increasing acceptance that there can no battlefield victory in the war, with Western diplomats urging talks to negotiate a political settlement.
A regional conference is to be held in Istanbul this week at which President Hamid Karzai is to announce areas in up to 17 provinces that will soon see a handover from NATO to Afghan control.
That will mark the second stage of a transition process that began in July and is scheduled to see Afghans take responsibility for national security by the time that NATO winds down its combat mission in the end of 2014.
But there is widespread scepticism over the ability of the Afghan army and police to secure the country, with the Taliban mounting a series of high-profile deadly attacks and so far showing little willingness to talk.