19 killed in Afghan assaults; attackers reportedly surrounded
This post has been corrected. Please see note below for details.
KABUL, Afghanistan and NEW DELHI -- At least 11 police officers and five civilians were injured and 19 insurgents killed in Sunday’s brazen attacks on foreign and Afghan targets in Afghanistan's capital and eastern provinces, government officials said.
Fierce fighting continued throughout Kabul seven hours after the attack was launched around lunchtime on the U.S., British, German and Russian embassies, parliament, NATO headquarters and a military academy in some of the capital’s most heavily guarded neighborhoods.
The government said that by early evening all of the attackers in sites around Kabul had been surrounded by Afghan Security Forces.
The Taliban took responsibility for the assaults in a message to the media, calling it part of a spring offensive.
The attacks caused panic and fear throughout Kabul.
“Right now I am on the top roof of parliament building,” said Mohammad Nahem Lalai Hameedzai, a lawmaker from southern Kandahar province. “The attack on parliament is an attack on Afghanistan and all its people. They are the enemies of peace.”
Lutfullah Mashal, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s Directorate of National Security, told the Agence France-Presse news service that one attack team made up of two suicide bombers and an armed accomplice hoped to assassinate Afghanistan Vice President Mohammad Karim Khalili but was caught and disarmed on the way to the official's house in west Kabul.
In a further flexing of muscles, the attackers also struck airfields, police headquarters and reconstruction facilities in eastern Nangarhar, Logar and Paktia provinces. In the Paktia assault, three assailants wearing suicide vests stormed a building in front of Paktia University in the city of Gardez and fought for three hours before being killed by security forces.
Several of the Kabul attacks were launched from high-rise construction sites, with an initial focus on the Akbar Khan neighborhood. This part of the city, honeycombed with checkpoints, is home to a large number of diplomatic missions and NATO headquarters. Explosions echoed throughout the afternoon, accompanied by plumes of smoke and the sound of gunfire in crisp spring weather as pedestrians darted for cover and sirens wailed.
Afghanistan’s information ministry said a minivan filled with explosives along Parliament Road also was intercepted and defused by Afghan security forces. Another team of attackers entered a building near the British Training Center, it said, mounting an attack from there.
The U.S. Embassy entered lockdown status, spokesman Gavin Sundwall said, adding that all personnel were accounted for. Separately, the embassy condemned the attacks, offered condolence to victims and said the capability of Afghan forces in fighting insurgents was “proven today by their professional and highly effective response in restoring order.”
U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker cast doubt on the Taliban’s claim of responsibility in an interview with CNN’s Candy Crowley, saying the attacks were more likely done by the Haqqani network, based out of North Waziristan and the Pakistani tribal areas.
“Frankly, I don't think the Taliban is good enough,” he told Crowley.
The Taliban has claimed responsibility for attacks in the past it didn’t commit as part of its propaganda war. If it turns out Haqqani is responsible, it could further strain relations between the United States and Pakistan.
U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Sunday that the attacks in Afghanistan are “probably a manifestation that the Taliban still has some strength.”
“Every time the president announced another withdrawal, his military commander said it increases the risk,” he told CBS’ Bob Schieffer. “That’s what we’re seeing here.”
[For the record, 1:17 p.m.: An earlier version of this post said at least 35 had been killed in the Sunday attacks.]
-- Aimal Yaqubi and Mark Magnier
Special correspondent Yaqubi reported from Kabul and Los Angeles Times staff writer Magnier from New Delhi. Staff writer Matea Gold in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.
Photo: Afghan security forces rush to the site of a battle in Kabul on Sunday as militants launched a series of coordinated attacks across the Afghan capital and elsewhere. Credit: Ahmad Jamshid / Associated Press