Insurgents launched a complex assault against the United States Embassy
and the nearby NATO headquarters on Tuesday, pelting the heavily guarded
compounds with rockets in an assault that raised new questions about
the security of Afghanistan's capital and the Westerners working there.
At least 10 explosions - apparently from rockets launched by militants -
and waves of automatic weapons fire were reported amid the drone of
sirens and English-language warnings telling Americans inside the
embassy to take cover.
It was unclear whether anyone - Western or Afghan - had been hurt or
killed in the attack, but it appeared that one rocket had struck a
minibus belonging to the Tak Beer private school, and witnesses said
that young adults had been carried away bleeding and apparently
Afghan officials said several attackers were behind the assault, but it
was unclear precisely how many assailants there were or whether they
were attacking from a single or multiple locations. The attackers were
holed up on several floors of a tall, partially built concrete building
that offered a bird's-eye view of the secured diplomatic and military
compounds about a half mile away. Flashes from gun barrels could be seen
as the militants fired from their perch. Afghan security forces
returned fire from the ground, sending puffs of concrete dust into the
air as bullets slapped the building.
"We don't know how many suicide bombers are in the building," said Col.
Abdul Zahir, of the criminal investigative division of the Kabul police.
"They're shooting at the embassy. We're still in fighting position. We
can't say anything."
Two explosions were also reported near the Afghan Parliament, but it was
unclear whether militants were specifically trying to attack the
government building, or other targets.
The embassy assault, which began around 1:15 p.m., was the latest in a
string of attacks that have chipped away at a tenuous sense of security
in the capital. In August, militants killed eight people in an attack on
a British cultural centre, and in June, nine suicide bombers breached
layers of security to attack the hillside Intercontinental Hotel.
By 3:10 p.m., two Blackhawk helicopters circled the building, but did not immediately open fire.
The streets surrounding the site of the attack, normally choked with the
traffic of minibuses, bicycles and Toyotas, were deserted on Monday
afternoon of all but security forces and people racing for cover.
"We don't know what's happening," one Afghan soldier said. "Everywhere you can hear shooting."
Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, claimed responsibility for the
attack in a text message, saying the Taliban had set out to attack the
embassy, a NATO base and Afghan government buildings. His claim could
not be immediately confirmed.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force confirmed there
were ongoing attacks against the embassy and ISAF headquarters, and said
in a Twitter message there were "forces responding quickly," but
provided no other details. The attack came less than two months after
Afghan forces assumed formal responsibility for security in the capital,
one of several corners of the country where security was officially
handed over in July. Sharifullah Sahak and Ray Rivera contributed reporting.