KABUL, Afghanistan — President Hamid Karzai on Monday blamed an “intelligence failure” by his government and NATO for a wave of suicide attacks in Kabul and three eastern provinces that Afghan and NATO officials said they suspected were led by a Pakistan-based extremist group.
Karzai broke his silence more than 24 hours after the strikes began and hours after the last of 36 insurgents were killed early Monday in Afghan security force assaults on two Kabul buildings from which the attackers fired on embassies, government offices, and U.S.-led NATO facilities.
The Afghan leader was quoted in a presidential palace statement as telling a Cabinet meeting that the coordinated operations in Kabul and in Logar, Nangahar and Paktia provinces represented “an intelligence failure for us and especially NATO.”
In Washington, Pentagon spokesman George Little said that NATO intelligence couldn’t possibly know the time and location of all attacks, calling it an impossible standard for intelligence. "This is a war zone," Little said.
The violence claimed the lives of four civilians and 11 Afghan security force members and wounded 32 civilians and 42 Afghan police and troops, the palace statement said.
The attacks fueled public worries over war-torn Afghanistan’s future amid preparations by U.S. combat troops for the second phase of a withdrawal that is to end in December 2014 with Afghan forces assuming security for the entire war-ravaged country of some 30 million.
The strikes could also deliver a fresh blow to already frayed relations between the United States and Pakistan as the nominal allies seek ways of repairing the damage done when U.S. forces mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani troops manning border posts in November.
The Haqqani network, a Pakistan-based Afghan insurgent group that U.S. officials have linked to Pakistan’s main spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, is suspected of playing the leading role in the suicide assaults, Afghan and NATO officials said.
They stressed, however, that the investigation had just begun, and that it was too early to draw conclusions.
The attacks that began around 1:30 p.m. on Sunday “have all the hallmarks of the Haqqani network” said a NATO official, who requested anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the issue publicly.
The “sophistication and nature” of the attacks were similar to a series of spectacular strikes the group carried out last year in Kabul against the British cultural center, the Intercontinental Hotel, and the U.S. Embassy, he said.
Gen. Bismillah Mohammadi, the Afghan interior minister, told a news conference that an insurgent captured during attacks in the eastern city of Jalalabad “confessed he had received training outside of Afghanistan, and affiliates himself to the Haqqani network.“
“All of these operations were led and organized by the Haqqani network,” asserted Gen. Ghulam Sakhi, the police chief of Logar province, where Afghan security forces fought fierce firefights with two teams of insurgents that seized over two multi-story buildings.
Sakhi claimed that al Qaida was also involved, but no other Afghan official made that allegation.
There were suspicions that the Taliban cooperated in the attacks. One of their spokesmen, Zabihullah Mujahid, issued statements by cellphone while they were underway claiming responsibility, and giving accurate details of the targets, as did the group’s website.
Safi is a McClatchy special correspondent. Matthew Schofield contributed to this article from Washington.