Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Insurgents reportedly firing rockets and assault rifles attacked an area of Afghanistan's capital that houses the U.S. Embassy, NATO headquarters and other government buildings on Tuesday.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault that rocked the diplomatic district in Kabul.
A U.S. Embassy spokeswoman said no staff members were reported wounded, but officials said at least one Afghan police officer and two insurgents had been killed as gunfire and explosions resounded across the city well into the afternoon.
NPR's Quil Lawrence, reporting from a nearby rooftop in central Kabul, said the assault began with a series of loud explosions and that he saw attackers running into one of the government buildings.
"They set off what sounded like three possibly suicide blasts before rushing to the building, and they're now raining down rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons fire across both the U.S. Embassy compound and the large compound which holds the ... NATO headquarters here in the center of the diplomatic district in Kabul."
Plumes of smoke rose from the area near the embassy, and U.S. Army helicopters buzzed overhead. Police said gunmen were firing from a tall office building that is under construction at Kabul's Abdul Haq square, which is about 300 yards from the embassy.
"The gunbattle is continuing," Interior Ministry spokesman Sadiq Sadiqi said.
Lawrence said he could hear the sound of "steady but sporadic fire" amid alert sirens from the U.S. Embassy, where people were warned over the PA system to stay under cover. The compound is on the edge of the Wazir Akbar Khan area, which is home to a number of other foreign missions.
"There are Afghan soldiers and Afghan anti-terrorism personnel all over the streets," he said, adding that the area of Kabul has been under Afghan security control since this summer.
At least one rocket landed on a building housing privately owned Tolo TV and another near a minivan carrying school children.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said a number of suicide bombers were attacking Afghan and foreign soldiers at the square. He claimed in a text message that suicide bombers using assault rifles were attacking the offices of the Afghan intelligence service.
U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Kerri Hannan issued a statement confirming an attack by gunmen firing rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire.
"We can confirm there are no casualties at this time among embassy personnel," she 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 in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the United States.
"This ... is a high-profile attack in the middle of the most secure part of Kabul, and the insurgency could be trying to demonstrate that they can hit anywhere at any time," Lawrence said.