Taliban fighters attacked Kabul airport with rocket-propelled grenades on Thursday, hours before Afghan officials began a massive audit of 8.1 million ballots cast in the run-off round of the presidential vote.
Almost immediately, Afghan officials claimed that Pakistan’s security agencies were responsible for the four-hour attack mounted by four Taliban militants armed with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. A Kabul airport official told Reuters all flights had been diverted to other cities.
“Four terrorists were killed by police special forces. The area is being cleared now, there are no casualties to our forces,” said interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi.
Interior ministry spokesperson Siddiq Siddiqi told a news conference in Kabul that attacks on the city’s airport had increased after the June 8 assault on Karachi’s airport. “Our interpretation is that after the Karachi attack, certain circles, especially Haqqani, Taliban and ISI, tried to attack our airport,” Siddiqi claimed.
“After the attack on Karachi’s airport, they fixed an evil goal that the same attack should take place on Kabul’s airport to stop international flights.” He alleged that the attackers were speaking in Urdu, adding, “It was revenge for the Karachi attack.”
Deputy Interior Minister Gen Ayub Salangi also blamed “intelligence networks of neighbouring countries for Thursday’s attack.”
Part of spring offensive
Afghan Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said the attack was part of the group’s spring offensive, codenamed ‘Khyber’. Four insurgents seized a building under construction at around 4:30 am before opening fire with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades as explosions rang out.
While Mujahid claimed ‘heavy losses on the enemy’, the Afghan authorities denied any casualties and losses to the aircraft or airport infrastructure.
Gul Agha Hashimi, a senior police official, said: “The attack is over, and the area is cleared from the insurgents. All the insurgents who were holed up in an under-construction building were killed.”
Attack on Karzai’s convoy
Also on Thursday, the Taliban attacked a security team of President Hamid Karzai as it was on its way to eastern Paktika province where a powerful car bomb killed nearly 80 persons this week. Two members of the president’s security team were injured. Spokesperson Mujahid also claimed responsibility for this attack.
Hours after the attack, some 23,000 ballot boxes were transported by the Afghan army and NATO forces to the capital, where they will be examined at 100 verification stations. “The audit will take two to three weeks,” Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani, chief of the Independent Election Commission said. “I hope both candidates accept the results this time.” Every one of the 8.1 million votes cast in the run-off election will be checked for signs of fraud in a painstaking process in Kabul.
The move was agreed upon by the two rival presidential contenders, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 18th, 2014.