Two Taliban suicide bombers blew themselves up at the gates of the Kabul traffic police headquarters early yesterday, before another group of militants stormed the compound, battling security forces for nine hours in an attack that left three policemen and all five attackers dead, authorities said.
The coordinated assault was the second brazen raid in the heart of the Afghan capital in less than a week, a sign that the insurgency is determined to keep carrying out such spectacular attacks even as the US and Afghan governments try to coax the Taliban into holding peace talks.
Nine hours after the insurgent attack began with two of the five attackers blowing themselves up, police commandos killed the last two insurgents holed up in the police headquarters, Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqi said. He added that four traffic policemen and 10 civilians were also wounded in the fighting.
Kabul Chief of Police Mohammed Ayub Salangi said two Taliban suicide bombers died at the gate when their vests exploded, another blew himself up inside the building and two more were killed by security forces before they managed to detonate their explosive vests. He said a sedan packed with explosives blew up near the gate a short time later. Such secondary devices are rigged to timers and designed to kill as many first responders as possible.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack, which he said was targeting a police training facility “run by foreign military forces.”
The traffic police headquarters is not heavily guarded, though it is located on a square leading to the parliament and is also next to the zoo. It is also adjacent to the Afghan border police headquarters and a police training facility — which may have been the more likely target. The traffic police facility, usually teeming with civilians seeking to get drivers licenses and registrations for vehicles, was nearly empty at the time of the attack.
Sediqi said Afghan forces carried out the operation against the militants without any assistance from NATO, adding that “this shows the ability of the Afghan forces, that they are leading the operation.”
A unit of NATO special forces that trains and mentors Afghan police was at the scene, but did not take part in the fighting.
Gul Rahman, who owns a shop near the traffic police compound, said he heard at least two blasts when the attack began just before dawn. A reporter at the scene said a number of big explosions were heard from inside and around the building, along with heavy gunfire.
It was the second insurgent attack inside Kabul in five days.
On Wednesday last week, six Taliban suicide bombers attacked the gates of the Afghan intelligence agency in downtown Kabul, killing one guard and wounding dozens. That operation bore several similarities to yesterday’s attack, including the use of a secondary car bomb placed outside the government compound. The attacks came as the Afghan government has been pushing to get the Taliban to the negotiating table and as Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the US negotiate for a quicker pullout of US forces.