Raid On U.S. Mission Points To Afghan Security Woes By Azam Ahmed

NYTimes.com
September 13, 2013

KABUL, Afghanistan — An insurgent attack on the United States Consulate in the western city of Herat on Friday morning killed at least two security guards and wounded six others, the latest sign of instability in a city often viewed as one of the safest in the country.

The attack began around 5:30 a.m., when a group of five suicide bombers detonated a van full of explosives near the auxiliary gate of the consulate, according to the provincial governor’s office. As many as 20 civilians in the area were also sent to local hospitals for treatment, according to Sayed Wahid Qattali, the head of the provincial council.

Following the explosion, which shattered the glass of the consulate building and structures in the surrounding area, the attackers mounted an assault on the consulate. An hourlong firefight resulted in the death of all four insurgents, who were unable to breach the gate, according to provincial and police officials. American security personnel helped fight off attackers who tried to enter the compound, according to a statement from the State Department.

The American ambassador to Afghanistan condemned the attack, expressing sadness for the loss of life and the toll suffered by both Afghans contract workers at the embassy and civilians swept up in the attack.

“We are reminded again of the very real human toll exacted by terrorism,” Ambassador James B. Cunningham said in a statement. “The perpetrators of this attack have shed Afghan blood on Afghan soil.”

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault.

The last few months have been especially violent ones in Herat, an area long known for its rich history and, until recently, its relative stability.

In July, the brother of Rangin Dadfar Spanta, Afghanistan’s national security chief, was fatally shot in a district that neighbors Herat city. In mid-August, insurgents killed nine construction workers and one police officer just outside the capital. Days later, militants executed six government engineers working on a road project in the province. And just last week, violent protests outside the Iranian Embassy in the capital resulted in the fatal shooting of one protester and the wounding of two others.

Security in and around Afghanistan has been a major issue this summer, the final fighting season before the coalition forces begin their planned withdrawal. The Taliban has been seeking to undermine the Afghan government in the eyes of the populace, with bombings focused on population centers like Kabul. The goal appears to be to raise doubts about whether the Afghan military can secure the country once coalition forces leave.

Some areas once mired in fighting now are more peaceful, while others long free of insurgent activity are suddenly in the thick of the fight. Coalition officials have referred to the phenomenon as “whac-a-mole,” meaning as the security forces hit the insurgents hard in one area, they merely pop up elsewhere.

Afghanistan’s border with Iran also adds to the insecurity, some analysts say, as activities hatched on the Persian side of the border are executed in Herat as Iran seeks to exert influence on its neighbors. Tension between politicians, in addition to an increase in banditry, also give the province a sense of deteriorating safety, said Jawed Kohistani, a security analyst based in Kabul.

Farah, a province that sits directly south of Herat and also borders Iran, has seen a spike in violent activity as well. A very small security presence and the existence of a robust drug trade make the province vulnerable. In April, a massive offensive on the governor’s compound killed nearly 40 Afghans, many of whom worked for the provincial government in some capacity. Last month, insurgents killed 15 police officers in a particularly deadly assault.

“The insecurity which exists in neighboring provinces of Herat, like Farah, Ghor and Uruzgan, affects Herat’s security directly,” said Mr. Kohistani. “In the past, the Taliban had been active and had roots in those provinces.”

American security personnel helped fight off attackers who tried to enter the compound, according to a statement from the State Department.

Jawad Sukhanyar and Sharifullah Sahak contributed reporting from Kabul.

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