Brazen attack in Herat expands Taliban's reach
KABUL — A spectacular attack on a U.S. consulate on Friday was not uncommon for its high-profile target, but was unusual in the historically more peaceful western region of Afghanistan.
The attack, claimed by the Taliban, was aimed at the American diplomatic compound in Herat. But as has become common at this stage in the conflict, it was Afghans who paid the price.
According to the Associated Press an interpreter and three members of the Afghan security forces were killed in the attack, which included a massive truck bomb as well as militants armed with small arms. No consulate employees were among the casualties, the U.S. State Department said.
The AP also reported that seven militants, including two drivers of explosives-laden vehicles, also died in the attack.
U.S. Ambassador James B. Cunningham praised the reaction of government and international forces, who prevented the attackers from overrunning the consulate.
“We are grateful for the quick response of the Afghan and ISAF security forces who secured the facility and kept our personnel safe,” he said in a statement.
Casualties among Afghan civilians and security forces have soared as troops with the International Security Assistance Force have taken a smaller role in combating the still-resilient Taliban-led insurgency. Nearly 1,800 Afghan police officers have been killed and 2,500 injured since March, Afghan Interior Minister Mohammad Omar Daudzai said in early September.
The attack in Herat broke the relative calm of a traditional day of rest, as well as celebrations that had swept across Afghanistan after the national soccer team defeated India on Wednesday to win the South Asian Football Federation Championship.
The latest attack came as the Afghan government is haggling with the Taliban leadership over peace talks that could lead to an end to the decades of war in Afghanistan. The Taliban have already said they would continue fighting during the negotiations.
Although international troops and government security forces vastly outnumber the guerrillas, the insurgents have intensified their attacks in recent months. The campaign has raised serious doubts about the government’s ability to maintain security after the withdrawal of most U.S. and NATO troops next year.
Government facilities in Kabul, the capital, have often faced threats as militants aim for bigger political gains by attacking high-profile targets. This year, the Taliban have launched attacks near the presidential palace, police headquarters and the NATO base at the Kabul airport, as well as other government buildings in the city.
On Sunday, five Taliban suicide bombers killed at least four Afghan intelligence officers and injured more than 100 civilians in an attack on the provincial intelligence department in Wardak province, just west of Kabul.
The western region of Afghanistan has been more peaceful than the violent southern and eastern areas.
Although, in April, Farah province was the scene of a bloody massacre at a court house and attorney general’s office. That attack by Taliban forces left 50 Afghans dead and more than 100 wounded, including many civilians.