Gunmen and suicide bombers attacked the periphery of Kabul International Airport before dawn today, Afghan officials said.
“Several armed men have attacked,” said Hashmat Stanakzai, a spokesman for the Kabul police chief. “It started with a huge bomb explosion and heavy gunfire.”
Sirens went off at international compounds across Kabul as foreigners were cautioned not to leave protected areas. Heavy explosions could be heard.
The head of the airport, Mohammad Yaqub Rasuli, described the attackers as “an unknown number of suicide bombers.” He spoke by telephone as he rushed to the airport. Citing reports from his staff, he said gunmen had taken up positions in a tall building to the north of the airport and were shooting at the side of the airport maintained by US and other international forces and in the vicinity of the Criminal Justice Task Force compound, where the Afghans hold major drug traffickers.
A spokesman for the task force said, however, that the compound itself was not under attack and that the shooting and explosions were a little ways off along Qasaba Road, which runs along the northern side of the airport. Incoming and departing civilian flights were cancelled, Rasuli said.
Several were diverted to the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in a text message and an email to journalists. The police chief, Gen. Mohammad Ayoub Salangi, confirmed that the fighting was still going on more than two and a half hours after it started. “There are no civilian casualties and no casualties on our side,” he said, referring to the police and security forces.
Salangi added that he did not yet know how many suicide bombers there were, but that his forces had killed a fighter who was firing rocket-propelled grenades. He also said the police had defused a truck used for “carrying fruits and vegetables that was packed with explosives.”
Residents near Qasaba Road said the gunfire and explosions were sporadic but continuing, and they could not leave their houses. A resident of the Qasaba apartment complex, near the centre of the attack, said she heard bullets occasionally hit the complex and could see columns of smoke rising nearby.
It was the second major attack in Kabul in the past three weeks. On May 24th, insurgents assaulted a guesthouse used by the International Organization for Migration. The Kabul airport has several areas within it. One large area is maintained by US and other international forces; another part is for commercial flights and is run and used by both Afghan and international civilians. The morning is always especially busy with many arriving and departing flights.
The US and international side has a deep perimeter, and from some gates it can take 10 to 15 minutes to drive to the headquarters buildings. It was unclear where the first explosions had happened and whether the bombers had reached the northern gate or exploded before they got there.