A brazen Taliban assault on the Afghanistan capital was quelled on Wednesday after raging for 19 hours in a hail of rockets, grenades and suicide blasts that left 14 dead and six foreign troops wounded.
Afghan and foreign troops battled insurgents who targeted the U.S. embassy and NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) headquarters, sowing fear and confusion and raising fresh questions over the Kabul government's ability to secure the country even after a 10-year war.
The standoff ended when troops killed the two last insurgents who had held out overnight in a high-rise building under construction just a few hundred metres from the heavily guarded U.S. embassy.
“The last attackers are dead and the fighting [is] all over. There were six terrorists in the building and all are dead,” Interior Ministry spokesman Siddiq Siddiqui told AFP.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
By holding the city hostage for over two days in their longest assault on the capital yet — the latest in a string of attacks on Western targets in recent months — the insurgents demonstrated their increasing confidence.
The raid was another sign that security has deteriorated sharply in Kabul, which was hit with a suicide bombing on the British Council cultural body last month and the storming of the luxury Intercontinental Hotel in June.
But U.S. Ambassador to Kabul Ryan Crocker played it down, though around six rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) landed in his embassy compound.
“This really is not a very big deal — a hard day for the embassy and my staff,” he said to the media.
“Half a dozen RPG rounds from 800 metres away, that isn't Tet [a key offensive in the Vietnam War], that's harassment.”
Mr. Crocker blamed the attack on the Haqqani network, a group allied with the Taliban seen as the insurgency's driving force along Afghanistan's porous border with Pakistan.
Dressed in burkas
Kabul police chief Mohammad Ayoub Salangi told AFP that the six attackers inside the building, plus three others behind smaller suicide bombs elsewhere in the city on Tuesday, had dressed in burkas to avoid searches at checkpoints.
He also claimed that data from their mobile phones showed they had been in touch with contacts in Pakistan, where militants are known to have hideouts, during the attacks.