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Terror Network Behind ‘Unprecedented,’ Coordinated Kabul Attacks

September 13, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
The U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters were among the targets of Taliban fighters who infiltrated Afghanistan's capital on Tuesday. Gwen Ifill gets the latest on the deadly attacks from Patrick Quinn, The Associated Press's Kabul bureau chief.
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GWEN IFILL: For the latest on today’s attacks in Kabul, I spoke to Associated Press editor Patrick Quinn a short while ago.

Patrick Quinn, thanks for joining us.

We understand that the attacks are still continuing tonight.

PATRICK QUINN, Associated Press: That’s correct.

A lone gunman remains inside the building that overlooks the U.S. Embassy and is — continues to fight Afghan forces. Afghan forces have opened up with heavy machine guns. Tracer fire can be seen impacting the building.

It’s been 12 hours since at least four or five Taliban entered that building. Twelve hours later, one of them is still there. And they’re still — he’s still fighting Afghan security forces.

GWEN IFILL: Patrick, how unusual is it that an attack of this kind would happen in the diplomatic district of Kabul?

PATRICK QUINN: Well, this attack is very unusual to start with. It’s probably the most complex and coordinated attack that has ever taken place in Kabul.

It’s probably the most significant attack that’s happened in the so-called diplomatic quarter. We have never had so many — there were a total of four attacks today, three suicide bombers and this attack. This has never happened before. This level of complexity and coordination is extremely rare and up until now it’s unprecedented.

GWEN IFILL: So what does this level of coordination tell us about who the attackers are or how serious this attack is?

PATRICK QUINN: Well, this attack is serious because one car loaded with insurgents made it all the way into the — inside the so-called Ring of Steel, which is a security cordon around the diplomatic quarter in Wazir Akbar Khan, which is one of the neighborhoods where a lot of the embassies are located.

At the same time, at least three suicide attackers fanned out across the city and carried out or tried — two of them carried out attacks. All were killed, shot and killed by police. But the first attack against the embassy involved at least four to five individuals with heavy weaponry. They managed to get within 300 meters of the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters and open fire.

That level, that degree of sophistication, the way they managed to get the weapons into Kabul and stage this attack almost simultaneously — all the attacks occurred almost simultaneously. This is unprecedented.

GWEN IFILL: So, does this mean that the Taliban, which we have been led to believe had been severely weakened in Afghanistan and certainly in Kabul, that they are stronger than was thought?

PATRICK QUINN: Well, you have to understand that the Taliban — this is all a battle of perceptions that’s going on here.

But the Taliban are much more organized and capable of carrying out these types of attacks than has been led to believe. Despite assurances that the campaign against the Taliban is being — is successful, these attacks are occurring with more and more frequency. This is the third attack in three months in the capital.

There was an attack against the British consul office that resulted in eight deaths. There was an attack against the Intercontinental Hotel that resulted in 19 deaths. These are spectacular attacks. And they’re not being carried out with somebody who doesn’t have a level of sophistication, organization and resources.

GWEN IFILL: So who are they?

PATRICK QUINN: Well, there’s two groups involved here. We think that the attack in Kabul was probably organized by the Haqqani Network, which is sort of a terror network that’s based in — mostly in Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan.

Now the Haqqanis are directly affiliated with the Taliban and al-Qaida, as a matter of fact. So, basically, we can see — we can say that this is a Taliban attack, but it was carried out by the Haqqani Network, which is probably the most dangerous network, insurgent and terrorist network, operating right now in Afghanistan.

GWEN IFILL: You said earlier that the Afghan forces were still pounding away at suspected insurgents. Was NATO involved in this — in the counterattack as well?

PATRICK QUINN: Well, NATO fired back.

These insurgents — you have to understand these insurgents were firing directly into the NATO compound. They weren’t lobbing shots at them. They were just firing straight into the compound. So U.S. forces and NATO forces shot back. And so did security forces at the embassy. The actual attempt to breach the building was carried out by Afghan national security forces, who actually even deployed one of their attack helicopters to open fire on the top floors of this building.

NATO and the U.S. supplied logistics and operational support and had a couple helicopters in the air to help coordinate. But Afghan security forces are the ones who are leading this effort to take that building back and basically kill the — you know, whoever is left in it.

GWEN IFILL: Patrick, do diplomats on site or international officials believe that this is connected, these — this new rash of attacks you described are connected in any way to the withdrawal, the handover of power in Afghanistan or even to the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks?

PATRICK QUINN: Well, I think there’s a connection to — you could probably find a connection to all three.

People on the ground here are saying this is definitely connected to transition. The U.S. government, the international community and the Afghan government had placed a lot of faith in transition. This is the — you know, the replacement, the gradual replacement of international forces by Afghan security forces, this has to be done by 2014, when all international combat forces leave Afghanistan.

This is a direct blow to transition. NATO secretary-general, the president of Afghanistan, the U.S. ambassador here in Kabul, you know, all of them said that, you know, this will not derail transition. So that’s a very important issue.

Let us not forget that this attack also takes place just two days after the 10th anniversary of 9/11. We had a huge attack against a U.S. base Saturday night — 77 U.S. soldiers were wounded in that attack. So, you know, it’s obvious that the two — these events are linked because they’re more — you know, will give more attention to the spectacular nature of the attacks.

Now, as far as withdrawal is concerned, I don’t think that the pace of withdrawal will stop. President Obama has said 33,000 troops will leave the country by the end of next summer. I don’t think this attack is going to change President Obama’s mind.

GWEN IFILL: Patrick Quinn of the Associated Press in Kabul, you stay safe. Thank you for joining us.

PATRICK QUINN: Thank you.