Insurgents Fire On U.S. Embassy In Afghan Capital

Insurgents appear to have launched a coordinated attack in the heart of Afghanistan's capital city. Rocket propelled grenades and assault weapons could be heard across Kabul — targeting the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters.

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DAVID GREENE, Host:

We are following a quickly developing story on the ground in Afghanistan this morning. Insurgents appear to have launched a coordinated attack in the heart of the city. Rocket-propelled grenades and assault weapons could be heard across Kabul, targeting the U.S. embassy, as well as NATO headquarters. Joining us now from Kabul is NPR's Quil Lawrence.

And Quil, I know you were out on the streets. Tell us what's going on.

QUIL LAWRENCE: It started with some loud explosions. Eyewitnesses said they heard perhaps three what they supposed might be suicide bombs, as insurgents apparently stormed a building site, a skyscraper under construction in a very heavily fortified neighborhood in Kabul, Wazir Akbar Khan. They then began reigning fire down on the U.S. embassy, NATO headquarters, a U.S. military base and some of the Afghan government offices. I saw an RPG land just behind a minivan full of schoolgirls who luckily survived and ran for cover, as people around that neighborhood were fleeing, just all of them moving west to try to get out of the range of this fire.

GREENE: You say heavily fortified. So this is a neighborhood in Kabul near the diplomatic district that is usually pretty well secured?

LAWRENCE: Yes. It's got to be the most secured part of Kabul. It's the gateway to the airport, the U.S. embassy. And most embassies are part of the same - it's not quite a Green Zone like they had in Baghdad, but it is a lot of blast walls and many, many checkpoints. And yet the insurgents were able to get in and target these most sensitive buildings and institutions.

GREENE: I know you're gathering new from across the city. You mentioned those schoolgirls who fortunately survived. Any sense of who's been killed or wounded in the attacks today?

LAWRENCE: We've heard of five confirmed deaths, including in the suicide bombing in another part of the city, which killed one policeman. Since I've left the area where the bullets were flying, another rocket-propelled grenade landed and killed at least one person there. And authorities are saying that they've apprehended another would-be suicide bomber heading for the airport. So it's very tense right now. You can still hear gunfire, and people are unsure whether there might be more attackers at large.

GREENE: It sounds like the targets might go beyond just the U.S. embassy and NATO.

LAWRENCE: Most of these seem to be wild shots. The insurgents are very high up in a building, and when they miss, these RPGs are flying hundreds and hundreds of yards off the target. This - a Taliban spokesman has claimed responsibility and specifically referred to a speech given by John Allen, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces here, saying that his speech on Sunday, 9/11, saying that the Taliban were being defeated was obviously an empty boast. And the Taliban have been trying to demonstrate that they can hit anywhere, at any time.

GREENE: And briefly, any response yet from the U.S. military?

LAWRENCE: The U.S. military and the U.S. embassy have both said that they - they've acknowledged the attacks. They said that there are no casualties on their side to date. And as I was leaving the scene, as well, I could see Black Hawk helicopters heading toward the building. And we understand that they have been engaging from the air with the insurgents who are holed up in that building site.

GREENE: All right. We'll be following the events on the ground in Kabul all morning. Quil, thank you very much.

LAWRENCE: Thank you, David.

GREENE: That's NPR's Quil Lawrence, in Kabul.

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