Insurgents armed with rocket-propelled grenades opened fire on the Kabul offices of the CIA early Tuesday in a coordinated attack in one of the capital’s most heavily fortified neighborhoods, which is also home to Afghanistan’s presidential place and the main headquarters for the U.S.-led international military coalition.
There was no word on damages to the CIA offices or casualties to its guard force, and it was uncertain whether the CIA had been the main target of the attack. The Taliban, claiming responsibility for the attack, said in a statement that the CIA building had been one of its primary objectives, but the presidential palace is also nearby. Three presidential guards died in the attack.
Reporters who were waiting to enter the presidential palace when the attack took place at 6:30 a.m. said the attackers fired at the CIA offices, and smoke could be seen rising from the building, a former hotel, from miles away.
Statements issued by Afghan ministries said no civilians were killed. In addition to the three palace guards who died, several were slightly wounded. Police said there were four or five attackers and that all were killed.
A spokesman for Hamid Karzai said the Afghan president was never in serious danger and was unhurt.
It was the latest in a string of high-profile attacks in the city over the last few weeks, including one on the military side of the international airport and another just outside the country’s Supreme Court building. It came as U.S. diplomats and Afghan leaders tried to figure out how get the stalled negotiations with the Taliban over peace talks in Doha, Qatar, back on track.
Ambassador James Dobbins, the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, had arrived in Kabul from Doha to meet with Karzai.
Mohammad Ismail Qasimyar, a spokesman for the Afghan High Peace Council, which likely would represent Afghanistan in any peace talks, said that such acts could undermine the chances of talks.
The U.S. ambassador in Afghanistan, James Cunningham, issued a statement condemning the attack and praising the rapid reaction of the Afghan security forces in ending it. But he also included an overture to the Taliban.
“All of the attackers were killed, without success in achieving their goals,” he wrote. “This again demonstrates the futility of the Taliban’s efforts to use violence and terror to achieve their aims. We again call on the Taliban to come to the table to talk to the Afghanistan government about peace and reconciliation.”
The attack lasted for more than an hour.
Witness Mohammad Hafiz, whose house is near the presidential palace compound, said that two heavy explosions shook the area, and after that he heard heavy gunfire and more than eight other blasts.
An Afghan solider who was in a guard tower just outside the presidential palace compound when the attack started said that Afghan National Directorate of Security officers in the Pul-e-Mahmmod Khan neighborhood, about a kilometer away from the presidential palace, tried to stop the attackers’ trucks as they approached the area, but they barely slowed and kept moving toward the palace compound.
Several of the journalists said one truck stopped in the middle of road that goes to the palace and the CIA headquarters. Several men emerged and start shooting wildly. Guards shouted at the journalists to take cover as the insurgents fired RPGs at various targets, including the CIA compound.
Kabul Police Chief Mohammad Ayoub Salangi said the insurgents’ trucks were armored and that they had tried to get their vehicles through security by displaying fake ID cards from the NATO-led coalition and fake vehicle passes for their trucks. But guards recognized the IDs as phony and tried to stop the trucks, which prompted the insurgents to start shooting.
After the attackers were killed, Afghan security officers immediately cordoned off the area. Even police officials and Rangin Spanta, head of the country’s security council, were prevented from entering.
Rafi Ferdous, a spokesman for the Afghan Council of Ministers, said that the attack was planned and carried out by an insurgent group that’s allied with the Taliban.
“Our information shows today’s attack near to the presidential palace and CIA compound was planned by Haqqani terrorist network,” Ferdous tweeted hours after the incident.
Video: Taliban Takes Responsibility for Kabul Attack