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Violence Rocks Kabul in Wake of NATO Offensive

February 26, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
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Suicide bomber attacks in Kabul targeted foreigners, killing at least 16 people a day after troops raised the Afghan flag over the former Taliban city of Marjah. Margaret Warner talks to a reporter in Afghanistan.
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JIM LEHRER: There was more violent death today in the center of Kabul, the Afghan capital. Suicide attackers and a car bomb killed at least 16 people, half of them foreigners. Another 40 were wounded.

The Taliban, despite its continuing losses on battlefields elsewhere in Afghanistan claimed responsibility.

Margaret Warner has our report.

MARGARET WARNER: Explosions and gunfire rattled the early-morning calm of the Afghan capital today, as attackers detonated car bombs and suicide vests at guesthouses frequented by foreigners.

MAN: When I was coming out, I found two, three dead bodies.

MARGARET WARNER: The blasts also blew out windows at an upscale shopping mall and hotel.

Jean MacKenzie, a reporter for GlobalPost, an international reporting Web site, said the explosions were massive.

JEAN MACKENZIE, GlobalPost: I think almost everyone in Kabul woke up to — to the sound of these bomb explosions this morning at slightly before 6:30. You could hear them all over the city rattling windows and — and shaking people out of bed.

Down at the scene, it was devastation. The guesthouses did have some protection, but the blast was so massive that it destroyed the protective gate around one guesthouse and completely flattened the other.

MARGARET WARNER: The explosions sent dazed bystanders stumbling through the streets.

WOMAN: … are here.

MAN: No, no, this all is media. You are safe.

MARGARET WARNER: Afghan police swarmed to the scene, spurring a four-hour gunfight with militants holed up in one of the buildings.

ABDUL GHAFAR SAYEDZADA, Kabul police (through translator): Right now, according to our preliminary investigations, it shows that there were two suicide attackers and one man supporting them. The suicide attackers blew themselves up.

And we killed the third one.

MARGARET WARNER: Humanitarian and government officials from India were regulars at one guesthouse. At least nine Indians died in the assaults.

And Afghan President Hamid Karzai called today’s chaos a “terrorist attack against Indian citizens.” After India’s foreign minister called the strike barbaric, a government spokesman in New Delhi insisted India would continue to help its Afghan neighbor.

VISHNU PRAKASH, Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesperson: India has been at the forefront in offering assistance, providing assistance for the redevelopment, for rebuilding of infrastructure in diverse areas to Afghanistan. And our ties with Afghanistan are strong, are — are deep, and will remain so.

MARGARET WARNER: Jean MacKenzie says Afghan officials are convinced the targeting wasn’t accidental.

JEAN MACKENZIE: There has been a great deal of suspicion on the part of Pakistan of the relationship between Afghanistan and India. They do not like to see Afghanistan getting too close to India. And there are many who are saying that perhaps this was an attempt to sow discord

between Afghanistan and India. And there, the suspicion falls on Pakistan.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, the Taliban claimed responsibility. Are you talking about one of the factions that’s been tied to Pakistan’s intelligence service?

JEAN MACKENZIE: Yes. And one of those is the Haqqani Network. This is a group closely allied to the Taliban, but based in Pakistan. And they have claimed responsibility and have been shown to be responsible for many of the more serious attacks in Kabul over the last three years.

MARGARET WARNER: Is there another possibility, that the timing of today’s attacks might be related to the coalition offensive down in Helmand?

JEAN MACKENZIE: Well, there are many who are saying this is the Taliban’s answer to Operation Moshtarak in Marjah, Helmand Province, and this may be one of messages that the Taliban were hoping to convey with this attack, that they are not finished, and that they will respond.

MARGARET WARNER: Today’s attacks come just one day after NATO and Afghan troops, who have been waging a two-week anti-Taliban offensive led by U.S. Marines, cemented control over the town of Marjah in southern Helmand Province.

Yesterday, officials raised the Afghan national flag over the city’s central market. Difficult terrain has held up some advances north of town, and sporadic flare-ups and improvised explosive devices are still a threat.

One such explosion killed a British soldier today, the 14th NATO service member to die in the operation. Still, coalition officials are confident the major fighting in Marjah is over.

Success has come at the cost of civilian lives. The independent Afghan Human Rights Commission says 28 civilians have died since the Marjah fighting started.