Eyewitness of Kabul Embassy Attack

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

Audio Transcript:

Lisa Mullins: The insurgent attack against the US embassy and other key buildings in Kabul, Afghanistan is over. The siege began yesterday. It ended early this morning. The US ambassador in Kabul, Ryan Crocker, is downplaying the attack. He's saying it was a form of harassment and not a very big deal. Another US official put the total death toll at 27. That number included Afghan policemen, civilians and the attackers themselves. The attack's brazen nature has stunned many people in Kabul. Candace Rondeaux is the International Crisis Group's senior analyst in Kabul. She was inside the US embassy building yesterday when the attack began.

Candace Rondeaux: I was at the US embassy in the cafeteria having a working lunch with some of the staff when the P.A. alarm went off announcing that there was some sort of attack outside and that this was not a drill, and asking us to take cover.

Mullins: Where did you go for cover?

Rondeaux: First we were stuck in the cafeteria and then we were ushered upstair to a hardened area that had a lot less windows. We were actually taken into a safe room. There were about maybe 40 of us all in this very small safe room waiting to hear what was going to happen next.

Mullins: And what did happen?

Rondeaux: Well, we did hear some booms outside, but we didn't hear any of the gunfire because the walls are very thick and hardened against these kinds of attacks. There were constant announcements over the P.A. saying the situation was ongoing, asking us to take cover. You know, we got some updates from the ambassador who was working at the time, and some of the other security staff kept coming in every 15-20 minutes to give us updates on what was happening outside on the street.

Mullins: So what was it like though during that time inside?

Rondeaux: Well, there was a lot of anxiety about how our families would view the situation, although we were feeling I think relatively safe. However, I know that there were other people around the embassy who were much more exposed and for them it had to be very frightening.

Mullins: How long did this all last for you?

Rondeaux: It was almost 24 hours that I was at the embassy because there was fear of continued fighting in the morning until about 11:30 or 11:45. So it was really pretty drawn out and I know for a lot of people, particularly the Afghan local staff at the embassy, they were extremely anxious, very worried, very worn out because of course they were thinking about their families, their children who were outside and exposed to some of these dangers.

Mullins: So, just to be clear, for 24 hours you were in that small safe room?

Rondeaux: Well, no, actually I was very lucky. We happened to be a section of the embassy where there was a little bit more freedom of movement. We were close to the cafeteria so food or water was not really an issue for us, but I know it was for others. We ended up actually, a few of us, bunking on the people's floors in the embassy campus just waiting for something to change, basically.

Mullins: I can't imagine what it was like to leave there when you finally did and came out. I wonder what it was like when you finally emerged?

Rondeaux: Well, it was odd. It was a bit surreal. You know, sun was shining, things seemed to have returned to normal. There were a cluster of police at the gates of the embassy who were sort of anxiously looking around when we were emerging, but otherwise, it was normal. I think we were all a bit dazed and confused when we left.

Mullins: And you have been in Afghanistan for how long?

Rondeaux: I've been here almost four years.

Mullins: I don't know if you've had any brushes quite as close as this one, you know when it's a single, but spectacular event; but does something like this which you experienced so personally, can it have a bigger effect on the way you see things right now?

Rondeaux: Well, in four years time I've of course had much closer brushes, which is unfortunate and I'm sure my mother would not like to hear that, but it's true. So of course over time you know, your point of view about the violence here and the sort of shape of the conflict changes and in a way you do become a bit jaded. I will say that yesterday's attack certainly made me rethink you know, what we're gonna do as an organization 2-3 years from now when the transition from NATO control of security to Afghan control actually happens and is completed. And I think on a very personal level for many NGO and aid workers here, this is very much on our minds. It's becoming very difficult to work and get out in the open and talk to people. And I think that is one of the more discouraging factors in terms of the kind of work that we do here.

Mullins: Are you gonna stay?

Rondeaux: I will stay. I am committed. I started this journey 10 years ago. I used to work at the World Trade Center. I was a cub reporter for the New York Daily News and I really feel strongly that part of getting to peace is understanding war.

Mullins: You were based at the World Trade Center in New York 10 years ago?

Rondeaux: I worked there. I had a summer job and I'd just quit just before the towers fell. And then I found myself on my second day of working for the New York Daily News as a cub reporter intern at Ground Zero basically.

Mullins: So this is in a way a bookend, but what you're saying is it's not over for you.

Rondeaux: It's not over for me. It's not over for the Afghan people.

Mullins: Candace Rondeaux was in the US embassy in Kabul during yesterday's attacks. She is with the International Crisis Group in Kabul. Candace, thank you, stay safe.

Rondeaux: Thank you, Lisa.