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Bomber, Insurgents Attack NATO Contractor in Afghanistan

Afghanista nnato attack

Nov. 3, 2011: An Afghan police officer walks at the scene of a suicide attack in Herat, west of Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP)

A suicide car bomb struck the compound of a NATO contractor company in western Afghanistan while other heavily-armed insurgents stormed the building, sparking an hours-long gun battle near the coalition's regional headquarters, officials said.

The attack, which took place near NATO's regional headquarters in the province of Herat, comes just days after the Taliban launched a brazen, two-pronged assault on a compound housing United Nations and international aid groups offices in southern Afghanistan. Five people were killed in that attack, including three working with the U.N.'s refugee organization.

Thursday's attack began with a suicide car bombing near the entrance of the company, which is located along the main road to the airport in the provincial capital's Guzra district, said Noorkhan Nekzad, the spokesman for Herat province's police chief.

NATO said the attack occurred near the compound for ESKO company, a contractor for Italian troops services and that the coalition had dispatched to the scene a quick reaction force that included ground and air assets.

The explosion was about half a mile (one kilometer) from Camp Arena, headquarters for NATO's Regional Command West, the coalition's main base in the region, a coalition spokesman said, speaking on condition of anonymity pending the official release of other details.

Initial reports indicate that one guard was injured in the blast, said Muhiudin Noori, spokesman for the province's governor.

NATO said it had no reports of casualties.

Afghan security forces responded to the attack and a gun battle was ongoing hours later, the two Afghan officials said.

The road is a route often used by NATO and Afghan forces.

The attack comes as the U.S.-led coalition pushes to speed up the transition of security responsibilities to its Afghan counterparts ahead of the end of the 2012 deadline by when NATO plans to withdraw its combat forces.

The transferring of security responsibilities in Herat's provincial capital began in July, and the incident could raise new questions about Afghan security forces ability to take on the Taliban alone.

While NATO's 10-year war against the Taliban has hit the insurgents hard, they continue to be able to pull off headline-grabbing attacks.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the Herat attack.