Militants attack buildings of government in Kabul
KABUL -- Assailants, some wearing suicide vests, attacked the Justice Ministry and another government building in the Afghan capital this morning, causing multiple deaths and forcing people to flee from building windows, officials and witnesses said. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attacks.
At least five men armed with assault rifles and grenades attacked the Justice Ministry in the center of Kabul, said Mohammad Ali, a ministry employee. Two assailants died in the ensuing firefight with security officers, while the others were still holed up in the building.
Ministry workers fled the building through the windows on the second floor as the shooting continued. Witnesses said three other people were killed.
''I was in my office on the second floor of the Justice Ministry when I heard the sound of a strong explosion on the first floor. I came out of my office to see what was going on and I saw a man with an AK-47 shooting at every employee he saw in the hall. I saw three employees dead, including one of my colleagues,'' said Nazir Mohammad, a ministry worker.
Zabiullah Mujaheed, a spokesman for the Taliban, said five of their fighters attacked the ministry. Mujaheed said the attack was in response to the alleged mistreatment of Taliban prisoners in Afghan government jails.
Another suicide bomber attacked the ministry's corrections department in another part of the town, said police officer Zulmay Khan. There were no details on casualties from that attack.
The siege of the ministry follows a lull in major attacks inside the capital. The Taliban regularly use suicide bombings.
In Washington, President Barack Obama is days away from approving a new Afghanistan troop buildup, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said hours before the attack. The new administration confronts a worsening war and the prospect of fiercer fighting in the spring.
Obama is likely to send fresh additional forces to the Afghan battle even before concluding a wide review of US strategy and goals there, in part because time is short to have new units in place for the expected increase in fighting that comes with warmer weather.
''The president will have several options in front of him,'' Gates said at a Pentagon news conference, adding that he expects a decision ''in the course of the next few days.''
Gates suggested, as have other officials, that the ground commander in Afghanistan would eventually get all the forces he has asked for, but no more.
Lieutenant General David McKiernan wants more fighting forces and support troops, such as helicopter crews, to push back against the Taliban in Afghanistan's increasingly dangerous south and eastern regions.
''If the president agreed to ultimately, to satisfy the standing requests from General McKiernan, I would be deeply skeptical about further troop deployments beyond that. I worry a lot about the size of the foreign military footprint in Afghanistan,'' he said.
An opponent of the ''surge'' of US forces that is now credited with turning around the Iraq War, Obama has taken a cautious approach to the addition of forces in Afghanistan. He is expected to initially approve only part of a military request for as many as 30,000 forces this year, while military and civilian advisers revamp war goals.
''This is the first time that this president has been asked to deploy large numbers of troops overseas, and it seems to me a thoughtful and deliberative approach to that decision is entirely appropriate,'' Gates said.
McKiernan asked for the additional troops months ago, long before Obama became president. Although Obama had pledged to add forces in Afghanistan while shutting down the Iraq war, removing troops from Iraq, his new administration has sought firmer control over the pace and scope of redeployments.