A show of controlled force

21 01 2010

Police firing from the roof of the office to contain the roaming attackers

Monday was a day to day to remember. Just after 930am a blast rang out, not huge, just close. Within 20 minutes there was a full blown gunfight. Further bombs, grenades and rockets interspersed with gunfire read as a varying tempo rather than the multiple coordinated events causing disruption and confusion. Even at close quarters it is difficult to determine exactly what was happening.

By 10 am we knew it was a notable event, half an hour later were had moved twice due to the ever nearing firefights. At one stage the police were on the office roof firing at the roaming militants (see photograph). The chance that the trouble would overrun us was more a reason to stay put rather than risk being caught in the open. By 1130 we had agreed to move and swiftly we were leaving, breaking through the line of encircling security forces, back towards the protection of the fort.

That the attackers failed to break into their primary targets of ministries and the Serena Hotel the security forces could be said to have suceeded but that 7-8 gunmen and suicide bombers controlled parts of the city centre for over 5 hours despite a flood of Afghan police (ANP) and army (ANA) is a sign that the Taliban’s tactics and planning is improving. Many sources have stated that to sustain a firefight for that long would have needed hidden ammunition dumps.

So the key difference about what has been described as a “primarily psycological” attack is the more considered demonstration by the Talibs and their foreign guests that they can not only strike within the most secure parts of Kabul but can sustain a controlled degeneration of area security where more blast and shots ring out from a widening danger zone. Both the witness accounts of attackers telling confrontational security guards to let them pass or they would die and the low civilian death rate is indication that the Taliban preference is to prove that Kabul is not secure, no matter how many Afghans that ISAF train, no matter how many check points the police set up. Maybe they have a heart after all.

Despite 10 years of Soviet backed rule Kabul does not have a strong Modernism style. Here a line of shops and workshops are topped with concrete detailing.

The hawkish view is that yet again that terrorists trained in Pakistan have had the freedom to prepare in North Waziristan and then cross unhindered into Kabul to launch a well planned and practiced strike on the Afghan people. Putting more pressure on Afghanistan’s neighbour to suppress the training camps would stem the flow of trouble makers at source.

Smoke still rising from the gutted top floors of the shopping centre as we leave 2 hours after the first explosion on Monday morning.

Whatever the case it is a marked difference from the attacks on the UN guesthouse in October last year.

Afghaniman Farid who runs logistics. Behind him are the office gates which were locked during the nearby attack on the ministries hotel and shopping centre.

Afghaniman is Farid our head of logistics, running a team of gophers and purchasers who search Kabul high and low for the right materials at the right price. Often the best dressed Afghan his collection of shirts are about the shiniest around.

Behind him are the gates that lead to the office. In my experience these are never shut except during the two local attacks, the last in October.

I will start uploading some more information on buildings once the city starts to calm down. We were stopped from entering the centre on our way to work today.

Duncan DJ