KABUL, Afghanistan — An attack in the western city of Herat that killed seven people and wounded 20 Friday morning underscored the continued fragility of the security situation in the country, even in pockets of Afghanistan long considered peaceful.
The attack began about 5:30 a.m. when a group of five suicide bombers detonated a van full of explosives near the auxiliary gate of the U.S. Consulate, according to the office of the governor of Herat province. As many as 20 civilians in the area were also sent to hospitals for treatment, said Sayed Wahid Qattali, head of the provincial council.
After the explosion, which shattered the glass of the consulate building and structures in the surrounding area, the attackers mounted an assault on the consulate. An hourlong firefight resulted in the deaths of several insurgents, who were unable to breach the gate, according to provincial and police officials. American security personnel helped fight off attackers who tried to enter the compound, according to a statement from the State Department.
The dead included two security guards. The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan condemned the attack, expressing sadness for the loss of life and the toll suffered by Afghan contract workers at the consulate and civilians swept up in the attack.
"We are reminded again of the very real human toll exacted by terrorism," Ambassador James B. Cunningham said in a statement. "The perpetrators of this attack have shed Afghan blood on Afghan soil."
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault.
The past few months have been especially violent ones in Herat, an area long known for its rich history and, until recently, its relative stability.
In July, the brother of Rangin Dadfar Spanta, Afghanistan's national security chief, was fatally shot in a district that neighbors the city of Herat, the provincial capital. In mid August, insurgents killed nine construction workers and one police officer just outside the capital. Days later, militants executed six government engineers working on a road project in the province. And just last week, violent protests outside the Iranian Consulate in the provincial capital resulted in the fatal shooting of one protester and the wounding of two others.
Members of the Taliban have been seeking to undermine the Afghan government in the eyes of the populace, with bombings focused on population centers such as Kabul. The goal appears to be to raise doubts about whether the Afghan military can secure the country once coalition forces leave.