Taliban Assault on Kabul
The Taliban attack in Kabul is reportedly winding down. The assault began around 9:35 a.m. local time Jan. 18 (the day the new Cabinet was being sworn in) when reports of rocket fire and explosions were heard in the Afghan capital near several government buildings.
Just 23 minutes later, reports emerged that the Taliban had claimed the attack in a message to the Afghan Islamic Press. In the claim, Taliban spokesman Zabihollah Mojahed said 20 suicide assailants were attacking the Presidential Palace, the Central Bank and the Ministries of Finance, Justice and Mines and Industries. The Serena Hotel, the Defense Ministry and Afghan Telecom had also reportedly come under attack.
A little after noon local time, militants began to lay siege on two major shopping centers, including a mall called the Grand Afghan Shopping Center near the Justice Ministry. Eyewitnesses reported militants carrying rocket-propelled grenades had entered the second and third floors of the mall. A vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) reportedly detonated outside one of the shopping centers killing several security forces.
Around the same time, reports emerged that militants who had earlier breached the southern gate of the presidential palace had entered the building where a swearing-in ceremony for Afghan President Hamid Karzai's Cabinet was scheduled to take place. The Afghan government denied any breach of the palace had taken place. Several minutes later, another blast was heard outside the Cinema Pamir in an area far from the other attacks, about 1 kilometer away from the Serena hotel.
The size of this attack (if it involved 20 assailants as the Taliban have claimed) is more than twice as large as the Feb. 11, 2009, attack in Kabul, which involved a team of eight attackers. While a complete and concise assessment of what has been struck is still being compiled, it does appear that the Justice Ministry (the main target of the February 2009 attack) was again hit hard and there are reports of a substantial fire burning inside the building. It is unclear if the fire was started by a rocket attack or assailants who had succeeded in penetrating the building's security.
STRATFOR sources are reporting that the Taliban may have used suicide vehicle bombs and artillery rockets in addition to the suicide bombers on foot and armed gunmen. If so, this is a new wrinkle. We have seen VBIEDS and artillery rockets employed by the Taliban in Kabul, but not in coordination with an armed assault.