Fighting raged across downtown Kabul yesterday after a group of Taliban militants equipped with suicide vests and automatic weapons attacked major buildings in the city centre including the presidential palace in one of their boldest and most ambitious assaults.
Five people including two civilians and three security personnel were killed and 71 others, with half of them civilians, were wounded in series of blasts and gun battle in the most secure area of the capital city.
The government claimed to have killed seven Taliban fighters.
The brazen attacks came as President Hamid Karzai was swearing in his new cabinet ministers inside the palace.
The insurgents had slipped into the city centre to carry out co-ordinated attacks on multiple high-profile targets. They had access to plentiful arms and ammunition and appeared to be receiving directions from outside.
In the parlance of modern terrorism, Kabul had experienced a ‘Mumbai attack' and even as the dead and injured were being carried away and the emergency services struggled to bring spreading fires under control, Afghan officials, like their Indian counterparts at time, were blaming the Pakistani secret police, ISI, as the hidden hand behind the mayhem.
Afghan interior minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar said the attack was plotted outside the country. “We don't have training centres for suicide bombers in Afghanistan,” he said.
He also said that the initial investigation revealed that “some of the bombers were not Afghans”.
Islamabad denied any involvement in the attacks.
Whatever the truth or otherwise of the allegation, yesterday's raid will be a source of acute embarrassment for Mr Karzai. The insurgents showed that they could strike in the heavily guarded heart of Kabul, an area of ministries and foreign missions.
The attack took place 10 days before the London summit on Afghanistan which is intended to set out future international strategy towards the country.