A siege in Kabul has finally ended after a 20-hour gun battle between insurgents and Afghan forces. The attack is one of the most daring so far on Kabul, which is supposed to be one of the safest places in Afghanistan, and a hub of the Western forces.
The BBC, quoting Afghan sources, said: ‘A multi-storey building where the gunmen were holed up, has now been cleared. Officials say at least seven people, including four policemen, were killed as well as nine of the insurgents.’
According to the Huffington Post: ‘11 Afghan civilians were killed, more than half of them children, said US’ Marine Corps Gen. John Allen. Five Afghan police officers also died, he said.’
The Afghan capital came under attack yesterday afternoon when blasts rocked the city, with rockets and bullets fired at key buildings in the city, including the US embassy and the headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force, which is responsible for the security of Afghanistan.
Unlike with previous, short-lived attacks on Kabul, this time a few gunmen positioned themselves in a nearby half-constructed building and kept on firing all night. One of the areas under attack was the Wazir Akbar Khan, an upscale residential area housing many foreign missions.
The Huffington Postreports that at least one rocket was also launched on a building housing privately owned Tolo TV, while another struck near a minivan carrying school children.
The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack, which comes just after the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington. The length of the attack clearly suggests that it was aimed at sending a signal to the international community over the resurgence of the Islamic militant group in Afghanistan.
This is the first time since international troops landed in Afghanistan in 2001 that the capital has come in for such a coordinated and sustained bombardment from Islamic insurgent groups. During my previous trips to Kabul, I stayed at Wazir Akbar Khan as the area is supposed to be extremely safe. Most of the foreign news channels and agencies also operate from this area and the vicinity.
But since the United States announced its plans to withdraw from the war torn country by 2014, few places have seemed safe, and there has been growing concern among many Afghans that the country is heading back to a situation similar to the bleak 1990s, when such attacks were common.
The latest attack also begs the question whether if the capital is not safe, where exactly in Afghanistan is? In July, security for seven districts of Kabul was handed over to the Afghan Army, yet this latest siege indicates that local forces simply aren’t up to the task of ensuring security.
Stratfor, a global intelligence group, noted of the attacks that: ‘While there have been many attacks in Kabul, this incident is one of the rare occasions that militants have demonstrated the capability to get extremely close to the heart of the Western military and intelligence presence in the Afghan capital. The ability to get numerous operatives armed with explosives and heavy guns into this area could not have been possible without the Taliban obtaining aid from Afghan security personnel posted in high-security areas.’
The surge in attacks comes at a time when the West is holding secretive talks with representatives of the Taliban. With this in mind, Stratfor believes that the attack on Kabul was more about causing psychological rather than physical damage: ‘This attack, likely the work of the Haqqani network, is designed to undermine US efforts to negotiate with the senior leadership of the Afghan Taliban movement.’
US Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker also blamed Pakistan-based Haqqani group, which has links with al-Qaeda,The Telegraph reported.
‘It’s tough when you're trying to fight an insurgency that has a lot of support outside the national borders…The information available to us is that these attackers, like those who carried out the bombing in Wardak, are part of the Haqqani network. They enjoy safe havens in Northern Waziristan,’ Crocker said.
With each passing day, Afghanistan’s descent into uncertainty and chaos appears to be going deeper – and faster.