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Afghan Forces Battle Militants Near Indian Consulate


An Afghan Quick Reaction Force (QRF) soldier fires a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launcher during an operation near the Indian consulate in Mazar-e Sharif on January 4, 2016

Afghan security forces are battling to flush out militants holed up in a building near the Indian consulate in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif.

Gunfire rang out and explosions were heard as helicopters circled over the building as the siege entered its second day.

The attack began late on January 3 after gunmen tried unsuccessfully to break into the consulate.

Afghan forces entered the building -- located in a residential area -- where the four to six insurgents have locked themselves.

"The attackers are enemies of Afghanistan who do not want peace," Atta Mohammad Noor, the powerful governor of Balkh Province, told reporters on January 4. "We will suppress them as soon as possible."

Noor said the area had been sealed off and government forces were "proceeding cautiously and making all possible efforts to protect the lives of [civilians] in the area."

At least four civilians and six security force personnel were wounded but the Indian ambassador said all the consulate staff was safe. There was no confirmation of any killed or wounded among the attackers.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which is the latest in a series of assaults on Indian installations in Afghanistan.

The incident occurred while Indian security forces were still trying to suppress an attack on an air base in Pathankot, near the border with Pakistan.

In 2008 a car bomb at the Indian embassy in Kabul killed 60 people and the facility was again hit by a suicide strike in 2009.

Nine civilians, including seven children, were killed in August 2013 when suicide bombers targeted the Indian consulate in the eastern city of Jalalabad.

In 2014, India's consulate in the western Afghan city of Herat was hit by heavily armed insurgents including suicide bombers.

The most recent attack came amid renewed efforts to reduce longstanding tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad and restart peace talks with the Afghan Taliban as part of a broader drive to improve stability in the region.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters

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