Taliban Launches New Assault in Kabul
Published: September 14, 2011 (Issue # 1674)
Ahmad Jamshid / AP
A wounded man is carried to a hospital following a series of coordinated attacks in the center of Kabul.
KABUL, Afghanistan — Taliban insurgents fired rocket-propelled grenades, heavy machine guns and assault rifles at the U.S. Embassy, NATO headquarters and other buildings in the heart of the capital Tuesday while suicide bombers struck police buildings in an attack blitz that displayed the ability of militants to bring their fight to the doorsteps of Western power in Afghanistan.
The coordinated assaults — coming two days after the United States marked the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks — carried an unsettling message to Western leaders and their Afghan allies about the resilience and reach of the Taliban network.
It was the third major attack in Kabul since late June, casting fresh doubts on the ability of Afghans to secure their own country as the U.S. and other foreign troops prepare to withdraw by the end of 2014.
The American Embassy and NATO both said no staff were wounded. Afghan officials said the violence around Kabul resulted in the deaths of four police officers and two civilians. Another 12 people were wounded, including at least four caught up in suicide bombings in the western part of the capital.
Four Afghans were wounded when a rocket-propelled grenade hit the original U.S. embassy building next to the new embassy, CIA Director David Petraeus told lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Among them was a small girl who was with a group waiting for visas outside the embassy, he said.
The surge of violence was a stark reminder of the instability that continues to plague Afghanistan nearly a decade after the U.S. invasion that ousted the Taliban for harboring al-Qaida, which carried out the 9/11 plane hijackings.
In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the U.S. will do everything it can to combat those who committed the “cowardly attack.”
Clinton said the U.S. was moving to secure the area and “ensure that those who perpetrated this attack are dealt with.” She said the U.S. would assist Afghans injured in the attack.
In Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the “enemies of Afghanistan” were trying to disrupt the handing over of security responsibility to the Afghan army and police.
President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack and said that it would not deter Afghan security forces from taking full responsibility for the country’s security by the time the international community withdraws all its combat troops at the end of 2014.
“By carrying out such attacks terrorists cannot stop the transition of security from international to Afghan forces,” Karzai said in a statement.
Gunfire and explosions resounded across Kabul well into the afternoon. At least two insurgents were still on the top floors of a nine-story building by late evening, police said.
Earlier, plumes of smoke rose from the area near the embassy, and U.S. Army helicopters buzzed overhead. The American Embassy is on the edge of the Wazir Akbar Khan area, which is home to a number of other foreign missions.
Gunmen fired from the nine-story office building that is under construction at Abdul Haq Square, which is about 300 meters from the U.S. Embassy. Afghan official said the attack began when about half a dozen insurgents took over the building and began firing toward the embassy and the adjacent NATO headquarters.
Thee military coalition, also known as ISAF, said the insurgents were firing rocket propelled grenades and small arms.
“An Afghan-led response is under way against the attack near the U.S. Embassy and ISAF HQ,” NATO said in a statement.
As part of the attempt to secure the building, an Afghan army MI-35 attack helicopter opened fire on the top floors with its heavy 12.7 mm gatling gun.
Explosions in areas located nearly a kilometer from the building indicated that the insurgents had heavy weaponry. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed the Taliban fighters were equipped with an 82 mm mortar, heavy machine guns, rocket propelled grenades, AK-47 assault rifles and that all were wearing suicide vests.