KABUL — The Taliban attacked the offices of a U.S.-based charity Friday, a complex assault that came just over a week before the country’s presidential election.
The attack, involving a suicide car bombing and four gunmen, was directed at the Roots of Peace facility in the Kart-e-Char neighborhood of southwestern Kabul, the organization’s founder and chief executive, Heidi Kuhn, confirmed in an e-mail.
After a standoff of several hours, 25 foreign residents of the Roots of Peace guesthouse were released when Afghan forces intervened, killing the four attackers, according to an Associated Press report. An Afghan girl was also killed during the attack.
There has been a surge in violence in the Afghan capital in recent weeks, including several attacks on Western and high-profile Afghan targets. A number of foreign election observers and other Westerners have left Kabul, fearing continued violence.
Although the attack proved to be less deadly than previous assaults on high-profile targets, it adds to an already tense security environment. The Taliban has pledged to execute attacks across the country that would threaten voters and destabilize the country’s fragile political process. The election is scheduled for April 5.
In recent months, there appears to have been a shift in Taliban tactics resulting in a more concerted effort to target foreign civilians in Kabul.
After last week’s attack on the Serena hotel, which left nine people dead, two groups of election observers — the National Democratic Institute and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe – withdrew their employees from the country.
In a statement Friday, the Taliban said it had attacked the Roots of Peace guesthouse because it was used by foreigners as a “church used to convert Afghans.”
The nonprofit organization has no stated religious affiliation. Roots of Peace is a California-based group that has worked in Afghanistan for a decade helping local farmers cultivate vineyards and orchards. According to its Web site, the group has been working in Afghanistan since 2003 and has received millions of dollars in funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Although all of the organization’s employees survived, some were reportedly injured by shattered glass.
Afghan Deputy Interior Minister Ayoub Salangi said the attack started with the detonation of a suicide car bomb, after which the other assailants entered the building.
In January, an attack on a popular Lebanese restaurant killed 21 people, including 13 foreigners. It came as a shock to expatriates here who were accustomed to dining at Western restaurants and attending parties at guesthouses. Attacks against foreign civilians were not unheard of, but they happened only sporadically.
Then, this month, gunmen killed Swedish journalist Nils Horner as he conducted interviews on a busy Kabul street.
As the Taliban appears to be increasing its focus on Western targets, it has continued its attacks on the Afghan government and civilians. On Wednesday, attacks on an election commission office, a bank and a sports field killed a total of 17 Afghans.
Both U.S. and Afghan officials expect the level of violence to remain constant or to rise as next week’s elections near. But with a runoff election this spring or summer almost inevitable, many here wonder whether the Taliban will be able to maintain its pressure on the country’s population centers for an extended period.