KABUL, Afghanistan -- The Afghan insurgency sent 13 suicide bombers to assault two high-profile government targets on Monday, one in the capital and the other in a southern province, in a striking signal of its willingness to expend followers on missions that have relatively little military impact but command headlines.
The first attack took place on the edge of Kabul International Airport, starting before dawn with explosions that shook the city awake and forced air traffic to be rerouted, but left only the bombers dead after a four-hour firefight. The second was in the capital of Zabul Province, where bombers in two vehicles attacked the provincial council building and an election office, wounding 19 and killing a police officer before being killed by security forces.
When the day's fighting was through, the Afghan government arguably had been left with the better bragging rights: in both attacks, its security forces responded quickly and relatively well, according to American and Afghan officials. It was a notable improvement from attacks over the past few years that in some cases locked down the capital for nearly a day, with many civilians killed or wounded in cross-fire.
But even though the militants caused relatively little damage or loss of life on Monday, they were able to disrupt the country's biggest airport and an important provincial capital, despite years of Western military effort in Afghanistan. And in the Zabul attack, in particular, they did wound many civilians and gave local government leaders a close call.
Taliban spokesmen claimed responsibility for the Kabul attack, but at least one Afghan official there suspected the involvement of the Haqqani Network, an allied militant group that has staged high-profile attacks on the capital in the past.
Sirens began ringing around the capital after a series of early morning explosions near the internationally run side of the Kabul airport, officials said.
The head of the airport, Mohammad Yaqub Rasuli, said a staff member had told him that the attackers had taken up positions in a tall building to the north of the airport and were shooting at the side of the airport maintained by American and other international forces.
All civilian flights were canceled when the attack started, but the airport reopened immediately after it was over, roughly four hours later, Mr. Rasuli said. Several flights were diverted to the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif.
"The terrorist attack on Kabul airport ended with the death of seven suicide bombers," said Gen. Mohammed Ayub Salangi, the Kabul police chief. "Two of the bombers blew themselves up, and five others, who had occupied a building under construction, were killed by the security forces," he said.
The police later said that a civilian woman and an elderly man had received non-life-threatening injuries during the fighting, and that no security forces had been wounded.
It was the second major attack in Kabul in less than three weeks. On May 24, insurgents assaulted a guesthouse used by the International Organization for Migration, killing four people.
The security forces put down the airport attack with international troops acting only in an advisory role, according to a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. Brig. Gen. Gunter Katz, spokesman for the force, said there had been no damage to ISAF property or personnel, suggesting that the explosions were outside the ISAF gates.
The Interior Ministry spokesman, Sediq Seddiqi, said that the attacker's tactics, and the fact that some wore security uniforms, suggested involvement by the Haqqani Network. The militant group, of eastern Afghan origin but now mostly based in Pakistan's ungoverned tribal areas, has been implicated in a number of the complex attacks in Kabul. No definite confirmation was available about the attackers, however.
In the Zabul violence, six suicide bombers assaulted the provincial council's compound. First a suicide bomber in a car detonated his bomb at the entrance to the provincial council compound, then a van with five suicide bombers tried to rush in. Some of the bombers were wearing police uniforms, said Mohammad Jan Rasoolyar, the deputy provincial governor.
The police killed the attackers, but not before 16 civilians and four police officers were wounded. One police officer later died of his wounds, Mr. Rasoolyar said.
No one claimed responsibility for the attack, but officials suspected the Taliban.
"The militants are trying to bring casualties to our fellow countrymen," he said. "We are blaming them for this attack and praising the brave action of our policemen that halted it and saved the lives of many innocent people."
President Hamid Karzai had left Afghanistan on Sunday to attend a forum for Islamic countries in Qatar.
In a separate episode, information emerged that the Taliban beheaded a teenager in Kandahar Province, said the governor's spokesman, Javed Faisal. The killing occurred in Maiwand District, where large stretches are under Taliban control. An elder from Maiwand, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the subject, said a 16-yearold boy named Khan, son of Abdul Wahab, was beheaded by the Taliban five days ago.
The boy was a regular visitor to an Afghan Local Police check post in one area, but went to visit a shrine in an area held by the Taliban and the militants detained and then beheaded him, the elder said.
The Taliban hate the Afghan Local Police because they are from the villages where they work and can easily recognize the Taliban and move against them.
Taimoor Shah contributed reporting from Kandahar, Afghanistan.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.