Insurgents Attack US Embassy in Kabul

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Lisa Mullins: I am Lisa Mullins and this is The World. Gunfire and explosions jolted Afghanistan's capital Kabul today. Insurgents launched coordinated attacks on the U.S. Embassy, NATO Headquarters and other buildings in the city. The attacks prompted a response from Afghan government forces and from security personnel in the targeted buildings. Kabul resident Himanshu Sharma said the fighting was sustained.

Himanshu Sharma: Initially, I thought it was going to end because it's Afghanistan, you know, the bombs, explosions are happening every day. But then 1 hour, and then 2 hours, and then 3 hours; it was just not stopping.

Mullins: The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attacks which left several people dead and injured. Jean MacKenzie covers Afghanistan for the online news service GlobalPost. She is in Kabul and she says that the Taliban fire power left residents terrified.

Jean MacKenzie: Kabul was something of an island of serenity [laughs] in a very stormy sea for the past few months. As you know, Kabul was handed over completely to the control of the Afghan security forces in July and we have been braced for something ever since then. So, I think people were not exactly surprised although the scale of the attack is unprecedented and it's been a very big shock.

Mullins: A very big shock because this happened in a highly secure embassy district as well as in the west of the city near the Parliament. The security, the fact that it was breached so badly, do you know how that happened? Does anyone know right now?

MacKenzie: A spokesperson for the Interior Ministry said that he thought fewer than 10 attackers were involved. If that is true, then the question to be answered is "How is it possible for so few insurgents to mount such a serious series of attacks or incidents with the police, the army and the national security forces all arrayed against them?" We have spy balloons in the air; we have something called 'the ring of steel' which is a series of police checkpoints around sensitive areas in Kabul, and none of that helped.

Mullins: What about the Americans who are still on the ground and the NATO forces who are still there? What is their role when something like this happens?

MacKenzie: Kabul was, quote unquote, 'transitioned' several months ago which means that, in an attack like this, NATO cannot respond directly. This is entirely in the hands of the Afghan police, army and security forces.

Mullins: President Karzai is saying that the attacks cannot stop the transition from taking place, meaning that the transition that will usher US troops eventually out of Afghanistan will go ahead. Is that something that residents there seem to support?

MacKenzie: Karzai was not alone in his statement. NATO's Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the same thing earlier this evening, that this attack would not derail the transition. Hillary Clinton has said that these attackers will be caught and punished. Karzai, the Afghan President, has said that this is only going to strengthen Afghan's resolve to take over responsibility for their own security. I believe that this is, at this point, just so much rhetoric because, if you are here on the ground with sirens and helicopters and the explosions and gunfire all around you, you do not have the feeling that you are protected; that you are in safe hands with the Afghan national security forces.

Mullins: Realistically, can you gauge for us how Afghans see an attack like this and how it's being responded to by the international community. I mean, they say the transition is going to go ahead. Is that realistic?

MacKenzie: The Afghans that I've spoken to during the day today are terrified. They do not see that their security forces are able to protect them and that seems to be the case. Yet we have the new Ambassador to Kabul, the new American Ambassador to Kabul, Ryan Crocker telling the Washington Post 2 days ago that Kabul's biggest problem was traffic. I think we have a failure on the part of the international community to recognize the actual situation on the ground. And if they are not recognizing it, then they are not able to deal with it.

Mullins: So what do today's attacks say about the strength of the Taliban, after all?

MacKenzie: The ability of the insurgency to mount a complex series of attacks in the capital, the heavily fortified area of Afghanistan, shows that they are very much still a power; that they are not overly inclined to sit down and talk at this point; that they want to demonstrate their strength and that, if and when there are negotiations, they do not intend to negotiate from a position of weakness.

Mullins: Speaking to us from Kabul, Afghanistan, Jean MacKenzie who covers Afghanistan for GlobalPost; thank you very much.

MacKenzie: Thank you Lisa.