U.S. troops join Afghans to repulse attack on consulate in Herat

McClatchy Foreign StaffSeptember 13, 2013 

Afghanistan

Taliban militants attacked the U.S. consulate in western Afghanistan on Friday morning, using a car bomb and guns to battle security forces just outside the compound in the city of Herat.

HOSHANG HASHIMI — AP

— Insurgents detonated a pair of vehicle bombs at a gate of the U.S. consulate in the western city of Herat early Friday, then opened fire with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades before being killed, Afghan and U.S. officials said.

At least two Afghan security guards died outside the consulate building.

More than 20 Afghans were wounded in the attack, including security guards, police and more than a dozen residents of the area, said Gen. Rahmatullah Safi, the Herat province police chief.

No Americans were killed, and all consulate personnel were reported safe and accounted for, according to a statement from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

The assault began before 6 a.m. when seven attackers approached the consulate in two vehicles. Five of the gunmen apparently got out of the vehicles and opened up on Afghan security forces with small arms fire. One of the vehicle bombs was the detonated near the gate, Safi said. The second rammed into the gate and then exploded, he said.

It was unclear if any of the attackers made it into the consulate compound. In a statement, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf did not directly address the point, saying only that if any attackers made it past the gate, U.S. security contractors guarding the compound would have handled them.

All the attackers eventually were killed, according to Gen. Muhammad Ayoub Salangi, a deputy minister of interior. The two drivers died in the explosions of their vehicles; the five others were gunned down by Afghan and U.S. forces.

The Taliban took credit for the attack in an emailed statement.

The attack came just two days after the first anniversary of a terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that left U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and another U.S. diplomat dead, along with two CIA security contractors killed at a nearby CIA facility. The defenses around U.S. diplomatic missions have been in the spotlight ever since.

The involvement of U.S. forces in repulsing the attackers made the Heart assault somewhat unusual. Terrorist attacks in Afghan cities in recent months have been handled primarily by Afghan police and soldiers. Even an attack on the NATO base on one side of Kabul’s international airport in June was dealt with entirely by Afghan security forces. The only forces in sight from the U.S.-led coalition were a handful of observers who watched how the Afghans performed.

This time, though, U.S. troops joined the fray. Local journalists reported several coalition helicopters over the scene as the fighting raged. Salangi said that U.S. special operations troops had responded to the assault.

In a statement condemning the attack, U.S. Ambassador James B. Cunningham said that coalition security forces had joined the Afghans in securing the compound.

Civilians often bear the brunt of such attacks, and Cunningham noted that the insurgents had harmed only Afghans.

“The perpetrators of this attack have shed Afghan blood on Afghan soil,” he said.

Rezwan Natiq is a McClatchy special correspondent.

Email: jayprice@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @jayinkabul

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