Afghanistan Hit By Deadly Attacks
GUY RAZ, HOST:
And if you're just joining us, you're listening to WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.
In Afghanistan today, the Taliban has launched a string of attacks across the country, including coordinated strikes in the capital, Kabul, that hit near western targets and Afghan government buildings. The Taliban says today's attack marks the beginning of what they call the spring fighting season, the period after the winter thaw when mountain passes and roads become accessible again.
NPR's Quil Lawrence is in Kabul. And, Quil, fill us in on what you know at this hour.
QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: Well, the attacks started actually in broad daylight just before 2 p.m. local time. Several different groups of Taliban fighters deployed around the capital as well as in three other provincial capitals in the east. And they used what has become something of a common tactic with the abundance of half-constructed buildings around Kabul and other places in Afghanistan.
They climbed up about four stories in a concrete tower just on the edge of Kabul's government enclave, which also is adjacent to the German and British embassies and very close to the American embassy and NATO headquarters, and they had lots of ammunition. They started raining down rocket-propelled grenades, machine-gun fire.
They did the same thing with another half-built site in west Kabul very near the parliament building. And they also attacked with suicide bombers in another site east of the city. This all happened at the same time in four different provinces, and at least six different attacks.
RAZ: Are there reports of heavy casualties?
LAWRENCE: No, actually. It seems that mostly there have been wounded policemen. I should say that NPR's Ahmad Shafi was on the scene of one of these attacks and saw a very seriously wounded policeman being evacuated from the scene, an Afghan policeman. But so far, Afghan government officials say they've suffered only wounded while they say that they have killed 19 insurgent attackers today.
RAZ: Quil, I understand that sounds of gunfire, even rocket attacks, echoed across the capital. Did you hear any of it from where you are?
LAWRENCE: Oh, absolutely. We could hear the explosions that were happening near the sort of government ministry enclave where most of the embassies are, and then we split up. Our team and I went out towards the parliament building where even three hours after the attack began, the street, which is normally a very busy, very traffic-y road, was absolutely deserted.
I don't even think I saw a street dog. And completely silent, everyone hiding in their basements, hiding - taking shelter. Silence just punctuated by the crashing of heavy gunfire. These were not small arms that the insurgents managed to get up into these buildings. And you could hear gunfire echoing all over the city.
RAZ: Quil, there's often an uptake in violence after the mountain snows melt and then the insurgents can cross from Pakistan again. What kinds of preparations are NATO and Afghan military forces making for what every year is called the spring fighting season?
LAWRENCE: Well, yes, there's sort of a battle of perception, I suppose, going on as much as anything else. There is heightened security, and there are a lot of questions about how the Taliban were able to infiltrate heightened security, especially here in the capital, especially in some of the most important parts of the city.
But there's also an argument going back and forth where the Taliban say, look, we're able to strike in the heart of Kabul, and they usually announce some pretty inflated casualty figures. And then what we hear, for example, from the Afghan government today saying that they turned this back, that they killed all the insurgents and suffered no casualties on their side, American officials have also been saying, look, the Afghan security forces did an excellent job in turning back these attacks which are militarily insignificant.
Now, try telling that to some of the people who were hiding in their basements for about six hours. On the one hand, maybe militarily insignificant; on the other hand, it succeeded in terrorizing huge sections of the city.
RAZ: That's NPR's Quil Lawrence in Kabul. Quil, thank you so much.
LAWRENCE: Thank you, Guy.
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