Attack in Kabul

Ed Note: UN Dispatch welcomes blogger Una Moore to our roster of contributors.  Una is an international development specialist who focuses on security and governance in post-conflict settings.  Follow her on Twitter.

At least a dozen Taliban gunmen, some armed with suicide vest, simultaneously attacked multiple targets in central Kabul Monday morning, killing at least two civilians and wounding 71 others in yet another violent illustration of Afghan capital’s vulnerability. The central bank, a shopping mall, the presidential palace and several government ministries all appeared to have been targets of the commando-style attack.

According to the New York Times, one gunman drove an ambulance into a busy traffic circle before detonating his suicide vest and sending bystanders fleeing. Another attacker detonated in front of a popular cinema. Nearby, more gunmen fought Afghan security forces during a four-hour battle that shut down much of the city.

Videos of the Monday attacks, uploaded to YouTube by journalists and ordinary citizens, showed groups of terrified pedestrians running from the scene as gunfire crackles and dust rises from explosions in the distance. In a video shot by a cameraman for Erasaneh television, journalists and Afghan security forces are seen running for their lives just before a car bomb detonates, sending a fireball into the air and injuring an Iranian journalist on camera.

When the street battle ended, three Afghan soldiers, two civilians, and seven attackers lay dead. Flames poured out the windows of the Feroshgah-e Afghan shopping center, now just a ruined shell. Dozens of injured civilians, most of them wounded by fragments from the many hand grenades thrown by the Taliban, were taken to hospitals. Order had been restored to the city center by nightfall, but smoke was still rising from several explosion sites.  Afghan and international officials were rattled and angry. Taliban suicide bombers had come within fifty yards of the presidential palace, where President Hamid Karzai had been swearing in new cabinet members when the attacks began.

“To be able to infiltrate at such depth, into the inner periphery of power here, is a mind-blowing achievement,” Afghan parliament member Daud Sultanzoi told the Wall Street Journal. “If you look at the pattern, they are steadily escalating in their coordination and their capability.”  

The location of the attack, in central Kabul, at a time when many civilians were present, demonstrates a staggering disregard for civilian lives,” said Kai Eide, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative.

According to a UN human rights report released last week, the Taliban and other anti-government forces caused three times more civilian deaths in 2009 than NATO and other pro-government forces, and the overall number of civilians killed by the Taliban shot up 41 percent between 2008 and 2009.

In contrast, civilian deaths caused by NATO and pro-government forces fell by 28 percent, a drop UNAMA attributed to deliberate measures taken by international military forces to reduce the risks posed to civilians by military operations. UNAMA’s Chief Human Rights Officer Norah Niland called on the Taliban to make similar efforts.

“It is vital that determined efforts are now made by the insurgency to put into effect the Taliban ‘Code of Conduct’ that calls on them to protect the lives of civilians,” Niland said at the report’s release.

If the Monday attacks in Kabul are any indication, insurgents don’t plan on changing tactics any time soon.

Image: Flickr (UNAMA)