Taliban militants unleashed car bombs at the US consulate in western Afghanistan yesterday morning, triggering a firefight with security forces in an attack that killed at least two Afghans. The US said all its personnel from the mission were safe and that US forces later secured the site.
The attack in the city of Herat — along with a suicide truck bombing in the nation’s east that wounded seven Afghans — underscored the perilous security situation in Afghanistan as US-led troops reduce their presence ahead of a full withdrawal next year. It was also a rude return to reality for Afghans who had spent a day and a half celebrating their nation’s first international soccer championship.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi took responsibility for the Herat attack in a phone call with The Associated Press.
Afghan and US officials offered slightly different accounts of what happened — differences that could not immediately be reconciled.
According to Herat Province’s chief of police General Rahmatullah Safi, the attack began at about 6am, when militants in an SUV and a van set off their explosives-laden vehicles while others on foot fired on Afghan security forces guarding the compound in the city, 1,000km from Kabul.
An Afghan police officer and an Afghan security guard were killed, though it was not clear whether they died in the explosions of the two vehicles or in the gunfire, Safi said. At least seven attackers were killed, including the two drivers of the explosives-laden vehicles and several people were wounded, he said.
US Department of State deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement that the assault began at about 5:30am, when “a truck carrying attackers drove to the front gate, and attackers — possibly firing rocket propelled grenades and assault rifles — started firing at Afghan forces and security guards on the exterior of the gates. Shortly after, the entire truck exploded, extensively damaging the front gate.”
Rafi said US special forces entered the area to secure the compound, and that no attackers managed to breach it.
Harf’s statement said “American security personnel” were among the response team, adding: “It appears American and contract security personnel addressed any attackers who managed to enter the compound.”
Robert Hilton, a spokesman for the US embassy in Kabul, said that “all consulate personnel are safe and accounted for.”
Footage aired on Afghanistan’s Tolo TV network showed Afghan police dragging away a badly bloodied man from the scene, but it was unclear if he was dead or who he was. Rubble and twisted pieces of metal lay strewn in a seemingly wide area near the consulate.
US Ambassador to Afghanistan James Cunningham issued a statement condemning the attack.
“Afghan civilians and Afghans on contract to the consulate were also killed or injured,” Cunningham said, without giving any figures. “We are deeply saddened by this senseless loss of life, and our prayers go out to the victims and their families. We hope for the speedy recovery of those injured.”
The other attack yesterday morning took place in eastern Paktika Province’s Sar Hawza District, said Mokhlis Afghan, a spokesman for the provincial governor.
Police recognized the vehicle was dangerous and shouted at the driver to stop, but he ignored them. Police then opened fire, and the bomber detonated the explosives, causing a powerful blast, the spokesman said.
Four police officers were wounded as were three members of the Afghan national army, he said.