The Taliban mounted their boldest and most ambitious assault on the capital of Kabul in recent years on Monday, with a series of well-coordinated bombings in the vicinity of the presidential palace and a platoon-sized expeditionary force wreaking havoc. The Afghan Voice Agency reports in Dari Persian that numerous bombs were set off near the presidential palace, shaking Kabul. The first was detonated at 9:45 am local time at the five-star Hotel Kabul Serena, 500 meters (yards) from the presidential palace, where many diplomats and journalists stay. The Serena was still on fire Monday night. As ambulances raced to the site to pick up the wounded, the attackers set off a second bomb at the Malik Asghar intersection in the capital. This blast was close to the central government ministries of foreign affairs, the economy, education, and Kabul municipality.
Other news sources speak of machine gun fire echoing through Kabul all day, as streets were deserted.
At the same time the bombs were being set off, a platoon of armed insurgents holding a five-story downtown Kabul City Center shopping mall began firing at nearby government buildings and banks.
KabuL City Center Mall, courtesy Pajhwok
The gunmen then engaged with Afghan National Army troops. Afghan government and NATO helicopters arrived to give air support against the attackers. Eyewitnesses report that the attackers killed and wounded dozens of people.
Then the shopping center caught or was set on fire, and the fire brigrades raced toward it and toward the Hotel Serena. A second shopping center, Gulbahar, was also bombed or set ablaze, according to AFP.
The News (Pakistan) reports that by mid-afternoon Afghanistan officials were saying that the situation was under control. At least ten persons were left dead, including four suicide bombers. AFP reported 13 injured. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that 20 guerrillas, some armed with suicide belts, had come into the city to target the presidential palace and government edifices.
The terrorist tactic here, of targeting nice hotels, shopping districts and government buildings, seems to me to be modeled on what Sunni extremists did twice in 2009 (August and November) to Baghdad, though this Kabul operation was not nearly as sophisticated or destructive. The choice to use a guerrilla platoon, some with vest bombs, limited its scope, as compared to what could have been achieved with car bombs (but perhaps NATO is better at searching trunks than are the Baghdad authorities.)
The attack seems likely to have aimed at making Karzai look weak and not in control on the eve of his attendance at the upcoming London international conference on Afghanistan. It may also have been a reply to Karzai’s appointment of about half the ministers on the way to forming a new government.
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