Middle-class Kabul district braces for Taliban

Shah Rahman stands beneath a portrait of Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, at his bakery in the Qasaba district of Kabul, Afghanistan, on July 24. Militants staged two attacks in a week from this neighborhood, including a pre-dawn raid on Kabul International Airport and a suicide bombing at a nearby unit of the Afghan Interior Ministry.

KABUL, Afghanistan — Nestled at the base of the craggy mountaintops that loom over north Kabul, the middle-class neighborhood of Qasaba seems an unlikely place to be infiltrated by Afghanistan's Taliban-led insurgents.

It is ethnically diverse, in a country where bloody battles have been fought along ethnic lines, and its inhabitants hail from a generation of civil servants who worked for Afghanistan's communist government in the 1970s. But Qasaba — flanked to the south by Kabul International Airport, and home to sprawling security compounds housing Afghan and foreign troops — emerged as a key new location for insurgent attacks this summer.

Two brazen assaults here last month, including an hours-long siege of the airport launched from a residential building and a suicide attack targeting foreign advisers to the Afghan government, have residents worried they are now in the crosshairs of an insurgency that has long wreaked havoc in the rest of the country. As foreign troops prepare to leave Afghanistan by the end of the year, this dusty district of small bazaars, pastel-colored mosques and Soviet-era housing blocs is bracing for stepped up attacks on the major government centers in their midst.

"There have been suicide attacks in other parts of the city, but this is new for us," Qasaba resident Abdel Qassim, 28, said of the two attacks that took place here last month. Dozens of local children romped playfully by his side, while women hung back, coddling babies in the shaded gardens that line the residential street.

"No attacks have ever come as close as these," he said.

In the first assault, on July 16, bullets and shrapnel from the battle between gunmen who laid siege to the airport and Afghan security forces careened into the modest apartments where Qassim and roughly 1,000 other families live. They emerged unscathed. But less than a week later and just blocks away, an explosion from a suicide bomber attacking a nearby foreign compound rippled through the early morning calm.

For residents of Qasaba in Kabul's northeastern reaches — where there are more watchtowers than trees, and more armored cars than Afghanistan's famed, fragrant rose buses — theirs is a story of a once-quiet community now grappling with the encroaching violence.

People here attribute the rise in violence to a newly paved road that they say allows militants to more easily slip in and out unnoticed, and to a large construction site that police said insurgents used to stage the airport attack after disguising themselves as workers.

"There are no police here, only at the juncture," complained Abdel Kamel, a young journalist, gesturing toward where the local bazaar selling bread, sweets, and petrol-filled jerry cans meets the main road.

Where the mountain slope reaches the paved highway several blocks away, the Afghan defense ministry's main supply base, a vast compound encircled by earth-filled barriers monopolizes the landscape.

At sunset on this summer day, a commercial airliner took off with a roar, making a sharp ascent over the rugged peaks. Microbuses trundled up the steep mountainsides to ferry laborers home from work, the men bringing home pink plastic bags brimming with cucumbers, carrots and okra for their evening meal.

"I grew up with war, but the children," Qassim said, trailing off. "We wish the bases would move."

Washington Post correspondent Sayed Salahuddin contributed to this report.

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