Assault shatters Afghan calm

A Taliban representative, reached by phone, said the attack was intended to answer American and Afghan proposals to “reconcile” with and “reintegrate” Taliban fighters into mainstream society. The plan is part of the American-backed campaign to turn the tide of the war, and will be showcased later this month at an international conference in London.

“We are ready to fight, and we have the strength to fight, and nobody from the Taliban side is ready to make any kind of deal,” Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, said. “The world community and the international forces are trying to buy the Taliban, and that is why we are showing that we are not for sale.”

The prototype of Monday’s operation was the assault on the Ministry of Justice, which a team of guerrillas, including suicide bombers, stormed last February. The militants killed the guards, got inside and stalked the halls for victims.

Suicide attack
Monday’s attack began at 9:30 am, when the streets of downtown Kabul were jammed with traffic. A man wearing a suicide belt approached the gates of the Central Bank of Afghanistan, which regulates the flow of currency in the country, and tried to push past the guards. The guards shot him, but not before the bomber managed to detonate his payload. He exploded in the street.

Simultaneously, a group of guerrillas rushed the Faroshga market, a five-story shopping mall next door. They expelled the shoppers and shopkeepers and ran to the higher floors to begin shooting, possibly to cover the advance of the bomber. Other groups of fighters slipped into the Ministry of Justice and the Ariana cinema house, the police said, but a survey of both sites revealed no evidence of that.

Some witnesses said a second suicide bomber struck outside the Faroshga market, but, if that was the case then he vanished without a trace. Within minutes, hundreds of Afghan commandos, soldiers and police surrounded Pashtunistan Square and attacked. Some of the Afghan fighters were part of specially formed antiterrorism squads. Monday’s gun battle was notable for the absence of American soldiers. A small group of special forces fighters from New Zealand were the only Western soldiers on the scene.

One group of Afghan commandos said they had come right from a training class.
With the battle raging, a huge shock wave rippled from another part of town — the suicide car bomber. His van, complete with a siren and light, was marked “Maiwand Hospital” on its sides and front, so the police let it through. It exploded in Malik Asgar Square, blasting a crater in the street and shaking the ground for a mile.

Afterward, the remains of the ambulance lay in the road, its twisted shards still smoking. The police pulled out the pieces of a man— dark skinned and heavy set. An Arab, they said. But no one seemed to know for sure.

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