Afghanistan: Red Cross office in Jalalabad attacked

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Media captionAn Afghan security guard was killed and the head of the office injured in the attack

A Red Cross office has been attacked by Taliban insurgents in eastern Afghanistan, local officials say.

An Afghan security guard was killed in the assault in the city of Jalalabad, they said.

Police said a grenade was tossed into the compound, and a gun battle with the security forces followed after the attackers forced their way in.

Seven foreign Red Cross workers were rescued and are safe. The head of the office was injured in the attack.

'Indiscriminate firing'

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) confirmed details of the incident on its Twitter feed.

"We condemn this attack in the strongest possible terms," said Jacques de Maio, the ICRC's head of operations for South Asia.

"Right now, our thoughts go out to the family of our dead colleague."

The police chief of Nangarhar province, General Sharifullah Amin, told the BBC a grenade was tossed into the compound housing the Red Cross office.

As security guards rushed for cover, two Taliban insurgents forced their way in to the compound, firing indiscriminately.

The gun battle between security forces and the attackers lasted nearly two hours, Gen Amin said.

Local residents told the BBC that they heard a large explosion followed by gun shots in the heart of the city, close to the Iranian and Indian consulates.

The explosion was so powerful that it broke glass in shops and homes several hundred meters away.

'Spring offensive'

Wednesday's assault is the second time in a week that international aid workers have been targeted in Afghanistan.

On Friday several staff at the International Organization for Migration were injured in an attack in the capital, Kabul.

The Red Cross has rarely been hit in the 12 years since the war in Afghanistan began.

It has 36 staff working in Jalalabad and is perceived as having good relations with all parties to the conflict, providing artificial limbs to the war wounded and paying visits to jailed insurgents.

"We are very concerned that the office has been attacked deliberately, knowing that the ICRC is a neutral organisation working in Afghanistan for almost three decades to provide humanitarian assistance to the victims of the armed conflict," Robin Waudo, ICRC communications coordinator, told the Associated Press.

"We have been here through the different conflicts that have happened and we are known by parties to the conflict, so we are taken aback by such an attack on our offices."

The Taliban announced a "spring offensive" in April, saying they would target foreign military bases and diplomatic areas.

At least 16 members of the security forces were killed in Taliban attacks across the country on Monday and Tuesday.

The ICRC's $90m-a-year (£60m) operation in Afghanistan is one of the organisation's largest in the world, the BBC's Bilal Sarwary reports from Kabul.

Some 1,800 ICRC staff work on various projects there, our reporter says.