KABUL —A group of assailants shut down Kabul’s airport for several hours Monday in a brazen pre-dawn attack that shook the Afghan capital hours after President Hamid Karzai delivered a speech in which he implied that U.S. counterterrorism policies have radicalized Muslims around the world.
Afghan police snapped into action moments after residents of the city awoke to thundering blasts around 4:30 a.m. At least seven gunmen, including two wearing suicide vests, had taken refuge in buildings under construction adjacent to the northern tip of the airport compound, which includes an international military base.
“It sounded very close and very frightening,” said Taj Mohammad Ahmadzada, a government employee. “There are few people on the streets.”
The Taliban asserted responsibility for the attack, which was similar to one against the U.S. Embassy in September 2011. Kabul’s police chief, Gen. Mohammad Ayub Salangi, said his forces killed the seven assailants before they could cause casualties or serious damage to the NATO base.
Afghan and foreign military officials hailed the police response, saying it was a testament to how far the country’s security forces have come in recent years. But the breach in one of the most heavily guarded districts of the Afghan capital underscored the dangers that the insurgency continues to pose as the U.S. military and its allies are drawing down.
Elsewhere in Afghanistan on Monday, a string of violent acts added to the toll of a particularly deadly summer. In Zabul province in the south, provincial officials said, six suicide bombers were fatally shot by security forces as they sought to seize a government building. In the east, a NATO soldier was killed by an explosive device, the military said in a statement.
Hours before the airport attack, Karzai delivered the keynote speech at the U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Qatar, a gathering convened by the Brookings Institution. His presence in the Persian Gulf emirate’s capital was closely watched because Qatari officials, with the backing of the United States, have allowed a Taliban delegation to set up residence there in hopes that the country can serve as a staging ground for peace talks.
U.S. officials have prodded Karzai to jump-start negotiations with the Taliban, hoping that such a breakthrough would reduce violence here as the U.S. military footprint continues to shrink and would make it easier for Washington to sign a long-term security cooperation agreement with Kabul.
The peace process appears moribund, and Karzai’s acerbic remarks Thursday, delivered in front of U.S. officials, did not augur well for future cooperation. He began his speech by reminding attendees that the United States and other Western powers have been quick to abandon Afghanistan in the past after meeting short-term policy goals.
Returning to a theme that he has voiced publicly before — and that rankles his government’s American benefactors — Karzai charged that the United States has waged a misguided war on terrorism.
“Who is a terrorist? Was terrorism to be found in Afghan villages and homes?” Karzai demanded. “Did we address the sanctuaries of terrorism? And by waging this war on terrorism, have we brought less radicalism in the Muslim world or have we caused more radicalism in the Muslim World?”
The conclusion, he said, is that “the Muslim world has seen more radicalism, from Pakistan and Afghanistan, all the way today to Mali and Nigeria.” Washington, Karzai said, “needs to explain itself to the Muslim world.”
Sayed Salahuddin contributed to this report.