20-Hour Insurgent Attack Ends In Afghan Capital

In Afghanistan, a bloody 20-hour insurgent attack on the capital Kabul ended Wednesday morning. All the assailants are dead. The attackers took control of a building that had a clear line of fire to the U.S Embassy and NATO headquarters in the heart of the city.

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DAVID GREENE, host: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

STEVE INSKEEP, host: And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

An attack on Kabul, Afghanistan is over. Attackers took control of a building that had a clear line of fire down to the U.S. embassy and NATO headquarters in the heart of the city. And it's taken 20 hours for Afghan forces to finally clear that building. It is inside that building that we have found NPR's Renee Montagne and Quil Lawrence.

Hello to you both.

QUIL LAWRENCE: Good morning, Steve.

RENEE MONTAGNE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What do you see there?

MONTAGNE: Quil and I are both standing on the 10th floor of this 12-story high-rise, here in the middle of Kabul. And not too far from us are the bodies of four of the attackers. There's two more bodies on the staircase as it goes down.

We're looking around, and this was clearly the site of a huge fight. We're told this was where the fight was the fiercest, right here in this room. The walls are pockmarked with all kinds of holes from the incoming fire from Afghan and international community forces.

As you said, you know, the target was the American embassy. And looking out of one of these big open windows, there's a clear line of sight to the embassy, it's a perfect target from this distance, for something like a rocket-propelled grenade.

INSKEEP: Let me bring Quil Lawrence into the conversation here, because some people will recall Quil's descriptions of the fighting yesterday. Quil, why did it take almost a full day to end the siege, to flush them out of this building?

LAWRENCE: Well, some people are citing that as evidence that the Afghan security forces aren't ready for the task. That it took them nearly a full day in order to stop these six men who had a huge area of Kabul essentially on lockdown with this rocket-propelled grenade and rifle fire.

But according to police we've interviewed here in the building, they said that it was a meticulous clearing, floor by floor. And they'll also point to the fact that there were not that many casualties, that this, in some ways, was not a successful operation. They managed to wound some people inside the U.S. embassy compound near the consulate. No Americans were killed.

And so the Afghan police, anyway, are saying that this shows their professionalism. They've also been praised by the NATO commander, the commander of U.S. forces here, for taking a slow approach and avoiding civilian casualties in a heavily populated area in the center of the city.

MONTAGNE: And Steve, this was what's being called quite a complex operation. There were four locations where there were attacks. The other main attack, where several policemen were killed, was actually over where I was yesterday, in a park in West Kabul, where there was a very big explosion.

It turns out to have been two suicide bombers who were bombing a police station near a mosque. And there were some fatalities there. But in the scheme of things, as many locations as were attacked, the fatalities are extremely low.

INSKEEP: What does this say then about the broader effort to pacify Afghanistan or at least bring down the violence there?

LAWRENCE: Well, there's a lot of questions being raised about whether Afghan forces are ready to take over security. The long time that it took them to clear this building is being cited. The fact that, even though yesterday was very high security around Kabul, we had trouble getting to some of our appointments because areas of the city were locked down. We don't know if that was because they an intelligence tipoff or because of VIPs. But even with all of these checkpoints around the city, the Taliban were still able to infiltrate with over six attackers with suicide vests and plenty of ammunition. One of the policemen here said they had enough ammunition to hold up for a week if they needed to.

INSKEEP: Let me ask one more thing before I let you go. What's the view across Kabul today? What does the city look like today?

MONTAGNE: From what we can see, Kabul looks as it always does. There's buildings being built. You can see in the distance, another high-rise across the street from the American embassy, you know. So there's activity here. I must say, yesterday, it never slowed down in some parts of town. People go on.

LAWRENCE: This is a city, Steve, that has seen so much war and so, in some way, people are inured to it. In other ways, I think the level of tension inside the city of Kabul is higher than I've ever seen it.

I just went out to the grocers last night after most of this attack was over. And the man I see everyday to buy my groceries looked at me and he said, the situation is bad. Go back into your house. Go home right now. People are nervous. There are rumors flying.

INSKEEP: Construction, destruction and tension all in Kabul, Afghanistan, where we've spoken with NPR's Quil Lawrence and Renee Montagne.

Thanks to you both.

MONTAGNE: Thank you, Steve.

LAWRENCE: Thanks, Steve.

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