KABUL — Two insurgents attacked a compound housing the International Committee of the Red Cross in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday, killing an Afghan guard before security forces rescued seven foreigners. It was a striking escalation of attacks targeting international organizations.
The Red Cross has rarely been hit in the more than 12 years since the Afghan war began in late 2001. Considered one of the most respected agencies in the country, it has good relations with all parties to the conflict, including the Taliban, who allow it to operate in areas under their control.
Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqi said the three women and four men were safe after police killed an insurgent who was holed up inside the compound. He said one of the aid workers was wounded.
The other assailant detonated a suicide bomb vest at the building’s gate at the beginning of the attack, killing an Afghan security guard who worked for the Red Cross, Sediqi said.
Red Cross officials were baffled.
‘‘We are very concerned that the office has been attacked deliberately, knowing that the Red Cross is a neutral organization working for almost three decades to provide humanitarian assistance,’’ said Robin Waudo, communications coordinator for the Red Cross in Afghanistan. ‘‘We have been here through the different conflicts that happened here, and we are known by parties to the conflicts. We are surprised just like most that a Red Cross office can be attacked when it is known by most parties that we are not a political organization.’’
The Taliban and other militants have unleashed a wave of bombings and assassinations around the country, testing the ability of the Afghan security forces to respond with reduced help from international forces, who have begun a withdrawal that will see most foreign troops gone by the end of 2014.
The attack in the eastern city of Jalalabad was the second major assault against an international organization in five days. Militants launched a similar operation against a UN-affiliated group in Kabul last week, killing three people.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, and it is unclear why insurgents would want to target the Red Cross, which not only carries out humanitarian work around Afghanistan but also is the conduit for families to communicate with detainees taken off the battlefield, including the Taliban.
A spokesman for the Red Cross in Afghanistan, Abdul Hasib Rahimi, said all the organization’s foreign staff members who were inside the compound were safe.
He said officials were checking to see if any Afghan staff members were at the compound at the time, but noted that local employees had left for the day an hour before the attack. The foreigners live in the compound, he said.
A total of 35 Red Cross staff, including the seven foreigners, work at the facility, he said.
Afghanistan is the site of one of the Red Cross’s biggest operations worldwide, with some 1,800 staff members in 17 locations, the organization said.
Sediqi said Afghan forces arrived at the scene shortly after the suicide bombing at the door, which cleared the way for the other attacker to enter.
‘‘As a result of the shooting exchange, the gunman was killed and all seven foreigners who were inside the building were rescued safely,’’ he said. ‘‘Right now the security situation is under control.’’
The Red Cross warned last month that security was deteriorating across Afghanistan as militants flood the battlefield and conduct attacks in what could be the most important spring fighting season of the nearly 12-year war.
The violence came five days after Taliban gunmen backed by a suicide car bomber attacked the Kabul offices of the International Organization for Migration, killing two Afghan civilians and a police officer.
The assault sparked an hours-long street battle and left another 17 wounded, including seven migration staff members.
The International Organization for Migration is a UN-affiliated agency that assists returning Afghan migrants as well as those displaced by fighting.
The Taliban quickly claimed responsibility for that attack.
There have been concerns that the Taliban would increasingly strike organizations such as the UN mission in Afghanistan after the international body said the insurgents were committing war crimes by targeting government officials.