Twenty hours after Taliban militants first launched a bold assault on Afghanistan’s diplomatic and military district in the capital Kabul, Afghan security forces backed by NATO killed the last of the six assailants on Wednesday.
REUTERS - An assault by Taliban insurgents on the heart of Kabul’s diplomatic and military enclave has ended after 20 hours, when security forces killed the last of six attackers, a spokesman for the Ministry of the Interior said on Wednesday.
“The operation just ended and 6 terrorists were killed by police. Details on casualties will be announced later,” spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said on Twitter.
The insurgents had holed up in a multi-storey building still under construction and launched their attack early on Tuesday afternoon, firing rockets towards the U.S. and other embassies and the headquarters of NATO-led foreign forces.
Afghan security forces backed by NATO and Afghan attack helicopters fought Taliban insurgents floor-by-floor in the building in the longest sustained attack on the capital since the U.S.-led invasion a decade ago.
One or two fighters held out overnight in the high-rise building, site of the most spectacular of four coordinated attacks across the city. Suicide bombers had targeted police buildings in other parts of the city.
At least nine people were killed and 23 wounded in four attacks, and the ability of the Taliban to penetrate Kabul’s vaunted was a clear show of strength ahead of a handover of security to Afghan forces slated for 2014.
A squad of insurgents were armed with rocket-propelled grenade launchers, AK-47 assault rifles and suicide bomb vests, a Taliban spokesman said, but the amount of time they held off foreign and Afghan troops prompted speculation they had weapons and ammunition hidden in the building before the attack.
Gunfire continued throughout the night, with residents of nearby buildings staying indoors with their lights off, as children panicked and helicopters flew low overhead.
“It would go silent for 30 to 35 minutes and then there were explosions and the sound of heavy machine guns,” he said.
Explosions were interspersed with gunfire all afternoon on Tuesday and several rockets landed in the upmarket Wazir Akbar Khan district, near the British and other embassies. One hit a school bus but it appeared to have been empty at the time.
“There was almost certainly either a break-down in security among the Afghans with responsibility for Kabul or an intelligence failure,” said Andrew Exum, fellow at the Center for a New American Security.
On the day the attack started, a U.S. Senate panel approved a $1.6 billion cut in projected U.S. funding for Afghan security forces, part of a significant reduction in outlays for training and equipping Afghan army and police expected in the coming years.
The U.S. and British embassies and the NATO-led coalition said all their employees were safe.
Violence is at its worst since U.S.-backed Afghan forces toppled the Taliban government in late 2001, with high levels of foreign troop deaths and record civilian casualties.
The assault was the second big attack in the city in less than a month after suicide bombers targeted the British Council headquarters in mid-August, killing nine people.
In late June, insurgents launched an assault on a hotel in the capital frequented by Westerners, killing at least 10. But Tuesday’s attack was even more ambitious.
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