Taliban fighters detonated bombs and battled Afghan police and troops for hours today in the Afghan war’s most sustained combat near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
The attack killed three Afghan civilians and one Afghan police officer, while a dozen people were wounded, Afghanistan’s interior ministry said in an emailed statement. Although no U.S. personnel were injured, four Afghans at the U.S. compound were hurt, embassy spokeswoman Kerri Hannan said in a statement.
In Washington, CIA Director David Petraeus, formerly the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said the attack included “five or so” people, perhaps wearing suicide vests, firing with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades from a building under construction.
“This was far from a so-called spectacular attack,” Pentagon spokesman George Little told reporters. “It has not resulted in the kind of destruction that the insurgents probably expected.”
The attackers set off bombs early in the afternoon at a main intersection in New Mikrorayon, a neighborhood of concrete- walled apartment buildings, and rushed into an empty building under renovation that overlooks the U.S. Embassy, about 800 meters to the west, and beyond it the headquarters compound of the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force, Tolo TV and the Pajhwok news agency reported.
“Terrorists have taken over a building under construction,” Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Seddiqi said by phone. “Police have shot dead two of them, but three or four are still fighting from the top of the building and our operation is continuing,” he said.
The attack came three weeks after the Taliban killed eight people in an assault on the British Council cultural center, northwest of the city center.
Although rockets have been fired in the embassy’s direction during the decade-old U.S. war against the Taliban, no previous attack as complex as today’s fighting has targeted the heavily defended facility. While Hannan referred to fire from rocket- propelled grenades, there was no confirmation that the embassy or the ISAF headquarters had been hit.
The rattle of gunfire continued into the evening, five hours after the battle began.
The Taliban guerrilla movement launched the attack against “local and foreign intelligence facilities,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed said in a text message. The news agency Pajhwok, based in Kabul, cited witnesses saying the gunmen were firing at a nearby compound that belongs to the National Security Directorate, the main government intelligence agency.
The attack came two days after the U.S. ambassador in Kabul, Ryan Crocker, presided over a Sept. 11 memorial ceremony in which the ISAF commander, Marine General John Allen, said, “We have reversed the momentum of the insurgents. On this sacred day of remembrance, I can say we are on the path of success in Afghanistan.”
The Taliban have conducted a series of complex attacks, combining bombings and commando-style assaults by suicide squads, to deepen the sense of insecurity in the capital. The deadliest such strike in recent months, a five-hour commando raid on the Hotel Intercontinental, killed 12 people on June 29.
President Hamid Karzai noted that Afghan forces, rather than international troops, were responding to today’s attack, a statement from his office said. Such assaults “cannot stop the process” of shifting security responsibilities from international to Afghan forces, Karzai said, “but rather embolden our people’s determination in taking the responsibility for their country’s own affairs.”
More than 1,600 personnel of the U.S. mission in the Afghan capital are protected by a Kabul Embassy Security Force of nearly 400 guards, according to a September 2010 report by the State Department’s inspector general’s office. That staff is spread across three locations in the city, including the main embassy compound, the report said.
The U.S. closed its Kabul embassy for 12 years before and during the rule of the Taliban regime. Since the State Department reopened it in December 2001, following the Taliban’s ouster, the embassy has been rebuilt and expanded.
Its sprawling complex of office buildings, a high-rise apartment block and security bunkers has taken over what were adjacent empty fields, and the road leading to it is closed by roadblocks manned by soldiers and guards.
Despite the new construction, the embassy suffers “overburdened life support systems,” including housing, security and transport, for a burgeoning staff, according to a separate declassified State Department report prepared last year.
The embassy’s U.S. staff nearly tripled with what the report called “a massive civilian plus up to support the large increases in assistance programs” to Afghanistan under President Barack Obama, leaving many employees living in prefabricated dormitories.
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