Taliban suicide bombers kill 8 in attack at British compound
KABUL - Taliban suicide bombers stormed the compound of a British cultural organization in an upscale Kabul neighborhood shortly after dawn yesterday, killing eight people as two English-language teachers and their bodyguard hid in a locked room during the eight-hour firefight.
The assault came on the 92d anniversary of Afghanistan’s independence from Britain, and the Taliban described it as a warning to outsiders in the nearly decade-long war. The insurgents also hope to show that they remain a potent force despite taking heavy casualties from last year’s buildup of US and NATO troops.
Still, the attack ended up killing mostly Afghans - five police officers and a municipal worker. The two other victims were a security guard of unknown nationality and a New Zealand special forces soldier who was shot in the chest as he tried to free hostages, according to Lieutenant General Rhys Jones, the New Zealand defense chief.
The soldier was the first member of the New Zealand Special Air Service, which mentors Afghan security forces, to be killed in this country.
Sixteen others were wounded in the attack on the British Council, a government-funded agency that is providing leadership training and cultural programs to help rebuild Afghanistan.
The two teachers - a Briton and a South African - were still sleeping at about 6 a.m. when a suicide bomber detonated explosives packed in a car outside the compound. The blast breached a wall, and another attacker rushed into the compound and blew himself up.
The female teachers and their male British bodyguard dashed to a safe room, where they stayed as militants and security forces fought for more than eight hours with rocket-propelled grenades, explosives, machine guns, and rifles.
All three were safely rescued from the site, which was littered with debris from the initial twin explosions that shattered windows a third of a mile away.
“Clearly, they are deeply shocked. They were inside the compound for a very long period of time,’’ Martin Davidson, chief executive of the British Council, said in London.
Afghan forces have started to assume responsibility for security, a gradual process intended to lead to the end of the foreign combat mission in 2014.
President Hamid Karzai, attending an independence ceremony at the presidential palace during the siege, said strikes on specific targets show that the insurgents are weak and cannot stand and fight the Afghan national security forces.
The US-led coalition said Afghan troops led the assault on the insurgents at the British compound, with NATO troops providing assistance. More than 200 Afghan police officers were sent to the site, and NATO helicopters circled overhead.
At midday, coalition forces used canisters of red smoke to mark a landing zone on a city road, where two rescue helicopters picked up the dead and wounded. The fighting continued for three more hours. Afghan security forces said at least three insurgents fought from a secure bunker inside the compound.
At about 3 p.m., two powerful blasts left the building in flames, and the last of the estimated five militants involved in the attack were killed.
“This was a vicious and cowardly attack, but is hasn’t succeeded,’’ said Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain.
Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said in a message posted on a Taliban website that the attack was a signal to the British and their allies “that invading forces are to be doomed to destruction as the British Empire had been destined to failure 92 years ago,’’ according to a translation by the US-based SITE Intelligence Group.
The walled compound of the British Council, first established in Afghanistan in 1964, is in an upscale residential neighborhood in the western part of Kabul. It consists of a two-story building and a separate single-story structure.
■ The coalition said a NATO service member was killed in a roadside bombing in southern Afghanistan. The coalition did not release the nationality of the victim or disclose other details about the death. So far this year, 389 foreign service members have been killed in Afghanistan.
■ A man with a bomb hidden in his turban blew himself up at the gate of the compound of the governor of Helmand Province in the south, according to provincial spokesman Daoud Ahmadi. The suicide bomber died and a police officer was wounded in the blast.