Male Islamic militants dressed as women in head-to-toe burqas infiltrated the heart of the Afghan capital on Tuesday and attacked the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters, using weapons smuggled in truckloads of construction material, a senior Afghan security official said.
The meticulous planning behind the attacks is the hallmark of Pakistan-based Islamic terrorists known as the Haqqani Network, according to two Afghan officials and a U.S. analyst.
The coordinated attacks in some of the most strongly defended parts of Kabul killed seven Afghans and wounded 15 others. Six terrorists also were killed.
Heavily armed militants launched their attacks after taking over a partially constructed building overlooking the U.S. Embassy compound. Suicide bombers struck other buildings in the city.
The Afghan security official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the militants appeared to have smuggled rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47s under truckloads of construction material bound for the site.
He said the militants wore burqas - a traditional Islamic veiled garment women wear to cover their bodies - to infiltrate the construction site.
The attack bore the fingerprints of the Pakistan-based Haqqani terrorist network, according to Jeffrey Dressler of the Institute for the Study of War, who has extensively studied the Haqqani Network, and the Afghan official.
“Anytime you see this level of sophistication, it is almost guaranteed that it is the work of the Haqqanis,” said Mr. Dressler.
He said the network may have used individuals from two other militant groups - Hizb-e-Islami and the Quetta Shura Taliban in Pakistan - to execute some part of the operation.
Hizb-e-Islami, the Pakistani Taliban and the Haqqani Network together form the Afghan Attack Network.
Sediq Sidiqqi, a spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, told The Washington Times in a Twitter message that the attack was similar to those carried out by the Haqqani Network.
“It is early to say that this attack is the work of Haqqani, but it is similar to attacks carried [out] by Haqqani,” he said.
As many as seven terrorists were thought to have taken part in the operation. Late on Tuesday night, Mr. Sidiqqi said one terrorist was still alive, but he “soon will be killed by police.”
A Taliban spokesman claimed his group was behind the assault, the third such attacks in the Afghan capital since June.
The Taliban had also claimed responsibility for an attack at a NATO military base on Saturday that killed four Afghans and injured 77 U.S. troops. However, a Pentagon spokesman on Monday said the attack in Wardak province, 30 miles south of Kabul, had been carried out by the Haqqani Network.
The network, led by the father-son duo of Jalaluddin and Sirajuddin Haqqani, operates from safe havens in North Waziristan, which abuts Afghanistan. The Haqqanis allow al Qaeda and the Taliban to use its refuge in Pakistan.
In Kabul, Afghan National Security Forces and coalition forces fought the militants late into Tuesday. The attack started around 1:30 p.m.
U.S. Army helicopters flew over the building in which the militants were holed up. An Afghan army MI-35 helicopter fired at the building.
The terrorists launched attacks at three different locations in Kabul´s Abdul Haq Square, Deh Mazang and on the Dar-ul-Aman road.
Kerri Hannan, U.S. Embassy spokesman in Kabul, said four Afghans, including three visa applicants and one locally hired guard, were injured in the attack on the embassy compound. None had life-threatening injuries. No Americans were injured in the attacks.
The headquarters of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force are located across the street from the U.S. Embassy.
Mr. Dressler said the attack was “operationally insignificant, but tactically significant” because it creates the perception that security in Kabul is poor.
The attacks have tested the ability of Afghan security forces to take the security lead in their country.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the attacks and said the Taliban will not succeed in delaying the transition in his country from coalition to Afghan control.
“The attacks cannot stop the process [transition] from taking place and cannot affect, but rather embolden, our people’s determination in taking the responsibility for their country´s own affairs,” Mr. Karzai said.
The United States and other coalition members plan to withdraw all of their troops by the end of 2014. President Obama has ordered 33,000 of the 90,000 U.S. troops to leave by the end of next summer.