Security Forces End Kabul Siege

September 14, 2011

By MARIA ABI-HABIB And ZIA ULHAQ, The Wall Street Journal

KABUL, Afghanistan—The large-scale attack that lobbed rocket-propelled grenades into the U.S. Embassy and targeted other international institutions in the center of Afghanistan’s capital ended after 20 hours Wednesday morning when security forces cleared the building where insurgents had holed up.

The fighters were from the Haqqani network, a Taliban ally, according to U.S. officials. They were finally cleared at 9 a.m. Wednesday by Afghan and U.S.-led coalition security forces. The attack started at about 1:30 p.m. Tuesday after insurgents occupied a building under construction about a dozen stories high, giving them a bird’s eye view of Kabul’s international diplomatic neighborhood, the U.S.-led military coalition, the presidential palace and Afghan intelligence service. As many as seven rockets hit within the U.S. Embassy’s security perimeter, according to American officials.

Throughout Tuesday afternoon and into the night, rocket-propelled grenades and gunfire pelted the streets near the Norwegian, Danish and other Western embassies and hit a school bus full of children. The damage was visible Wednesday morning with Kabul’s streets speckled with craters from rocket attacks. The streets remained largely empty.

The death toll was expected to rise, but by Wednesday afternoon four policemen and two civilians were confirmed dead. Another 11 policemen and 12 civilians were wounded, an Interior Ministry spokesman said. Security forces gunned down the six attackers occupying the building, he added. Six members of the U.S.-led coalition were hurt in the attack, a spokesman for the coalition said, without providing their nationalities.

The Taliban took responsibility for the attack, though their Haqqani network allies launched it, according to U.S. officials.

Although the insurgents’ attack failed to inflict massive casualties, their ability to hold major swaths of Kabul under siege for nearly a day is a psychological blow to the war effort. The once mostly rural insurgency has effectively brought the fight to Afghanistan’s major urban centers over the last year, hitting Kabul twice in three months and Afghanistan’s second largest city, Kandahar, earlier this year.

And while U.S. officials say Afghan forces led the operation against the attack, members from the international coalition still had to provide assistance to end it. Both Afghan and coalition helicopters fired at insurgents in the building, who came well-prepared with ammunition for rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns and suicide vests. The insurgents had energy drinks and juice boxes to sustain them overnight, Afghan officials said

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