KABUL, Afghanistan — Insurgent gunmen and suicide bombers struck the U.S. Embassy, NATO headquarters and other locations in Kabul on Tuesday in coordinated attacks that raised fresh uncertainty over the ability of Afghan forces to assume security from departing U.S.-led international forces.
No U.S. or Western officials or soldiers were reported killed or injured during the violence, which saw insurgents raining rocket-propelled grenades and gunfire into the fortresslike U.S. mission, the adjacent NATO compound and an Afghan intelligence facility from a nearby half-finished high-rise building.
At least three Afghan police and four civilians were killed, and nine police and eight civilians injured, according to an Interior Ministry statement. The wounded civilians included a young girl waiting for a visa inside the embassy compound.
It was the second major insurgent operation in four days and came two days after the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist strikes in the U.S., which were plotted in Afghanistan and triggered the U.S. invasion.
On Saturday, 77 American soldiers were injured when a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-laden truck outside a U.S. base in Wardak province, about 40 miles from Kabul.
Video footage posted on the Internet by the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force showed Macedonian troops, who provide security for the NATO headquarters, and U.S. soldiers loosing intense gunfire at the insurgents in the multistory building from atop stacks of shipping containers. At one point, a U.S. soldier warns of an incoming rocket-propelled grenade, shouting, “RPG, get down!”
The gunfire persisted after sunset, and embassy staff remained locked down late into the evening. The shooting slackened around midnight, and Afghans employed by the mission were allowed to go home.
“Our soldiers are moving slowly [through the building] and clearing the way of possible explosives,” Mohammad Zahir, the head of the Kabul police’s crime and investigation department, told McClatchy Newspapers.
Obama administration officials and U.S. military commanders have claimed significant progress in containing the Taliban-led insurgency as a result of a “surge” last year of 30,000 additional American troops, a major expansion in Afghan security forces and intensified “night raids” by special operations forces.
But Tuesday’s attacks in Kabul’s high-security diplomatic enclave showed that Taliban-led insurgents still can launch complex guerrilla-style strikes whose key aim appears to be eroding public confidence in the ability of President Hamid Karzai’s government to take over from U.S.-led international forces.
In June, nine insurgents clad in suicide vests attacked a luxury hotel in Kabul, and last month, militants struck a British cultural center.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the operation. But many of the most spectacular assaults in Kabul in recent years have been staged by the Haqqani network, an extremist group allied with the Taliban that U.S. officials say is supported by elements of neighboring Pakistan’s powerful security apparatus.