The Taliban claimed credit for a complex suicide assault that targeted the Presidential palace in Kabul just hours before President Hamid Karzai was to address reporters today. The CIA headquarters at the Ariana Hotel was also said to have been targeted in the attack.
The attack began early in the morning as Taliban fighters penetrated security at a high-security gate said to be used by only the most senior Afghan government officials, The New York Times reported. Kabul’s chief of police claimed that a guard at the gate spotted a fake ID card, and then the Taliban suicide assault team exited the vehicle and opened fire. But unnamed security officials told the Times that two vehicles were able to bypass security at the gate.
Afghan and US security forces battled the Taliban fighters for nearly two hours before the assault was defeated. Five Taliban fighters and two Afghan guards were killed during the firefight, according to Reuters. More than 15 explosions were heard in the capital during the fighting, according to Khaama Press.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed the main target of the attack was the CIA station at the Ariana Hotel. The CIA station has come under attack one other time in the past two years. On Sept. 25, 2011, an Afghan guard who is thought to have been a Taliban infiltrator opened fire at the hotel, killing an American, two Afghan soldiers, a presidential guard, and a CIA security guard.
Today’s attack in Kabul is the second of its kind in the capital in two weeks. On June 11, a suicide bomber detonated outside of Afghanistan’s Supreme Court, killing at least 16 civilians, including many who worked at the complex.
The attack in Kabul takes place as the international community is seeking a negotiated settlement with the Taliban after the group set up a “political office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” in Doha, Qatar. The Taliban have employed the office as a de facto embassy, raising the Taliban flag and using the name Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which is what the Taliban used when they ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, and still use to this day.
The Taliban have said they would step up attacks against “foreign invaders,” or Coalition personnel operating under the command of the International Security Assistance Force, workers from non-governmental organizations operating in Afghanistan, and “officials and workers of the stooge Karzai regime.” The Taliban stressed that suicide and insider attacks would be used, and warned Afghans to “stay away from the bases of the invaders, their residential areas or working for them in order to avoid civilian losses.” [See LWJ report, Taliban promise suicide assaults, ‘insider attacks’ in this year’s spring offensive.]
Over the past month, the Taliban and their allies, including the al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, have stepped up suicide operations against the Coalition, NGOs, and Afghan institutions. There have been 10 high-profile suicide attacks, including the attack today in Kabul, since May 23.