Dozens Killed In Militant Attacks In Kabul
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
From the studios of NPR West, this is Day to Day. A brazen attack in the capital of Afghanistan just a day before President Obama's special envoy Richard Holbrooke arrives. Taliban insurgents stormed the heavily guarded justice ministry in Central Kabul. At least 20 people were killed.
Here with more is Richard Oppel of the New York Times in Kabul. And Richard, I understand this is a very heavily fortified building. In fact, the whole area is. How did the attackers managed to get in?
Mr. RICHARD OPPEL (Reporter, New York Times Magazine in Kabul): Well, that's right. There were three attacks, three separate attacks. Two of them resulted in the 20 deaths and 57 injuries. At the Ministry of Justice, the five Taliban gunmen went to the shack, or the building where normally you were searched. They killed two police officers or two guards who were there. One of them, apparently, was killed in that building, and then the remaining four then went inside the main Ministry of Justice building and began the rampage, killing civilians there, and then ultimately getting in a fight with the security officers and killing several security officers before they were killed.
BRAND: And how many attackers were there?
Mr. OPPEL: At the Ministry of Justice building, there were those five. There were two attackers at the direct route of prisons in another location of Kabul where they killed seven people and wounded 15. The eighth attacker - the eighth out of the eight Taliban attackers today tried to get into the Ministry of Education, but he was shot dead by guards before he could detonate his suicide vest.
BRAND: So it sounds like these were pre-planned, orchestrated attacks. It sounds - I mean, just on the face of it, a lot like those attacks in India and Mumbai last November where 160 people were killed.
Mr. OPPEL: Oh, it's interesting you say that because the director of the Afghan Intelligence Service said in a news conference this afternoon that just before the attack on the Ministry of Justice, there were a couple of messages sent by the attackers to somebody unknown in Pakistan, or at least somebody who the Afghan Intelligence director wouldn't describe. The messages were sent right before the attack and saying, you know, asking for a blessing from the mastermind of the attack.
And the Intelligence director wouldn't elaborate on that at all, but it's certainly an intriguing development in the investigation.
BRAND: And India is blaming this group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, in Pakistan for those attacks in Mumbai. Was this message from the Taliban allegedly sent to that same group?
Mr. OPPEL: No, he didn't say anything like that, and the Taliban has taking credit for this, too. A Taliban spokesman, who has already taken credit for - but it's not clear yet what faction of the Taliban might be behind this attack.
BRAND: So what does this mean? This came on the eve or Richard Holbrooke's visit. What does this mean for his visit and what he hopes to accomplish?
Mr. OPPEL: Well, it certainly underscores how the enormity of the challenge here, where the Taliban control, you know, the East and the South of the country, they control a huge part of the countryside. And as senior Afghan officials pointed out today, you know, they can still very easily strike, you know, even within the inner sanctums of the government here. You know, the Taliban spokesman who took credit for this today had a very long statement and at no point did he mention the Holbrooke visit.
He talked instead about how this retaliation for poor treatment of Taliban detainees by Afghan - people in Afghan, you know, prison officials and prison guards and the like. But clearly, it just will underscore, for the Holbrooke visit, just the enormity of the challenge that the U.S. faces here and that the Afghan government faces.
BRAND: And what appears to be a heavily armed and increasingly sophisticated Taliban, I mean, how have they increased their power and their ability to mount these attacks?
Mr. OPPEL: Well, they've always - you know, they've always had an ability to strike within the city, and there's actually been a period here for the last month or so where there haven't been certainly any high-profile kidnappings. And you know, the security forces here they're all Afghan security forces here, a lot of them, and you know, they fell down on the job today, letting these attacks happen.
But after the attacks happened, they very quickly locked down a large part of the city and really took control quickly. But you know, the Taliban are still very well-financed. They have drug money. They have all sorts of financing and the resources and, you know, they're not far out of the city, so they don't have to come in far to launch an attack.
BRAND: New York Times reporter Richard Oppel in Kabul, Afghanistan. Thank you very much.
Mr. OPPEL: Thanks, Madeleine.