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'No evidence' Taliban attack targeted French minister

Video by Catherine VIETTE

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2011-04-18

French officials have dismissed Taliban claims that Monday’s deadly attack on the Afghan defence ministry building in Kabul was targeted at French Defence Minister Gérard Longuet (pictured), who is currently visiting Afghanistan.

In a brazen attack on one of the most heavily guarded sites in Afghanistan, a man wearing an army uniform and a suicide vest entered the Afghan Defence Ministry building in the heart of Kabul Monday, killing two soldiers and wounding seven people, according to Afghan officials.

Barely an hour later, a Taliban spokesman claimed the attack was targeted at French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet, who is currently on a visit to meet with Afghan leaders and French troops in Afghanistan. More than 3,800 French troops are deployed in Afghanistan as part of the NATO mission in the war-torn country.

Longuet was not in the building at the time of the attack and French officials have discounted Taliban claims that he was the target of the attack. French military officials said the French defence minister was at the Bagram airbase located about 40 kilometres north of Kabul.

Monday’s attack came as NATO officials in Afghanistan geared up for a surge in violence over the spring, when insurgent attacks in the mountainous nation typically increase following the opening up of mountain passes that are snowbound during the winter months.

It was the first time a gunman penetrated the heavily secured Defence Ministry building located not far from the Afghan presidential palace and several other ministries in downtown Kabul.

The assailant managed to reach the second floor, where the defence minister and the army chief-of-staff’s offices are located. He then shot dead two Afghan army soldiers and wounded seven other people, including an assistant to the Afghan defence minister and a secretary of the army chief of staff, according to Afghan security officials.

Afghan Defence Minister Rahim Wardak was not in the building at the time of the attack.

A spokesman for the Afghan Defence Ministry told the Associated Press that Longuet met with Wardak later Monday as scheduled, inside the Defence Ministry compound.

“The attacker was wearing a colonel’s uniform, he was armed, he had a valid ID and was able to pass through checkpoints outside and inside the ministry building,” said Bilal Sarwary, the BBC’s Kabul correspondent, in a phone interview with FRANCE24.com.

Senior Afghan security officials said it was not known if the attacker was an Afghan soldier gone rogue or an insurgent dressed in an army uniform.

Dressed in uniforms, insurgents penetrate security cordons

Monday’s attack was the fourth in as many days targeting senior Afghan security officials.

On Friday, a suicide bomber dressed in a police uniform entered the heavily fortified police headquarters in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar and killed the Kandahar police chief.

The next day, a suicide bomber in an Afghan army uniform entered a sprawling desert base near the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad and succeeded in detonating his explosives, killing five NATO soldiers and four Afghan troops.

Speaking to reporters in Afghanistan Monday, a NATO spokesman said the attacker was a member of the Afghan National Army.

Taliban displays infiltration and intelligence capacity

The latest incidents have raised questions about a security transition from NATO to Afghan forces scheduled to start in July, according to Julius Cavendish, reporting from Kabul.

“It’s an indication of the Taliban’s ability to infiltrate the security forces and the sophistication of their espionage system that they’re able to do this,” said Cavendish.
US officials are warning that the number of attacks in Afghanistan could increase during the spring and summer months.

At a NATO meeting in Berlin last week, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned NATO allies not to abandon Afghanistan even as she predicted a violent spring as the Taliban attempted to regain ground in southern and eastern Afghanistan lost to NATO over the past year.

“We have to steel ourselves and our publics for the possibility that the Taliban will resort to the most destructive and sensational attacks we have seen,” said Clinton.

Photo credit: ECPAD/Sergent Lafargue

Date created : 2011-04-18

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