Early Monday, Afghan-led forces fired one rocket-propelled grenade after another in an effort to defeat insurgents holed up in one building in the capital and another near parliament, the Associated Press reported.
The attacks underscored the insurgency’s ability to penetrate the country’s most fortified cities with trucks full of rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. In the capital, insurgents held out for hours, firing at Afghan and Western security and diplomatic installations. As the United States prepares to withdraw its combat troops by 2014, such attacks place stress on a brittle security situation that the NATO-trained Afghan army and police will soon inherit.
From their perch on the eighth floor of an unfinished commercial building in central Kabul, insurgents aimed rockets and rifles at NATO’s military headquarters, only a few hundred yards away. In another attempted siege, they struck the Afghan parliament.
In statements to the media, the Taliban called the day’s attacks a prelude to future violence. The number of attacks across the country has picked up considerably in recent weeks, officials have noted, as fighters return from Pakistan.
“This is a message that our spring offensive has begun,” said Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid, who said Sunday’s primary targets were Western military and diplomatic installations.
“The Taliban are really good at issuing statements. Less good at actually fighting,” Ryan C. Crocker, U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. Crocker suggested that the Haqqani network — a group affiliated with the Taliban, but with its own autonomous leadership — had probably planned the attack from havens in western Pakistan.
The initial blasts, which seemed to occur almost simultaneously, struck at least seven locations across eastern Afghanistan, including three targets in Kabul and a NATO base in the city of Jalalabad. But by Sunday night, the casualty toll remained lower than many initially expected, drawing Western commendation for the actions of Afghan security forces.
The Afghan security forces “were on scene immediately, well-led and well-coordinated. They integrated their efforts, helped protect their fellow citizens and largely kept the insurgents contained,” Gen. John R. Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said in a statement.
An urban battlefield
Less than an hour after the attack began, members of the Afghan Crisis Response Unit and their NATO trainers entered the building from which insurgents were firing. There were two large blast holes visible in the facade of the Kabul Star Hotel, frequented by Westerners and wealthy Afghans, located just across the street.