Two suicide attackers dressed in burkas were shot dead today as they attempted to enter the compound of a US-linked aid organisation in a southern Afghan town, officials said. The male bombers were wearing explosives-packed vests beneath traditional women's all-covering dress and opened fire on guards at the gates of International Relief and Development (IRD) in Lashkar Gah, the officials said. "The two suicide bombers were shot and killed by the IRD guards, luckily their explosives did not explode," the provincial spokesman Daud Ahmadi said.
Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, is 20km away from a major US-led offensive testing a new counterinsurgency strategy aimed at wiping out the Taliban and drug-trafficking cartels. The interior ministry said no one else was killed or harmed in the thwarted attack, which happened around 9.45am. But Mr Ahmadi said two people employed by IRD were wounded. The would-be suicide bombers had opened fire on police guarding the IRD gates, he said.
"In the exchange of fire, a woman and a man working for IRD were wounded," he said. There were no details on whether the wounded included foreigners. The interior ministry said in a statement: "Two [male] suicide bombers ... started firing on the police guards and in a return of fire by the national police within moments, both suicide attackers were killed. "In this incident no harm was caused to anyone else and only the suicide attackers were killed," it said, adding that police seized two assault rifles and two suicide vests filled with explosives.
IRD implements projects on behalf of the US Agency for International Development, Mr Ahmadi said, including helping farmers market their products, improving food security and other agriculture-related projects. Helmand is a hotbed for the Taliban, who have been waging an increasingly virulent insurgency since their regime was overthrown in the 2001 US-led invasion following the September 11 attacks on the United States.
The United States and Nato are raising to 150,000 the number of foreign troops in Afghanistan by August under a strategy marrying military and civilian efforts to eradicate the militant presence and establish Afghan sovereignty. The strategy is currently being tested in Helmand's Marjah and Nad Ali districts, where poppy-production is controlled by Taliban and drug traffickers in areas that have long been outside government control.