KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Ten terrified international aid workers huddled inside a fortified room in Kabul for two hours as a Taliban attack raged around them until they were rescued by Afghan police, the aid group’s country chief said Sunday.
Richard Danziger, chief of mission for the International Organization for Migration, praised the police for fighting their way into the compound to free the workers during the Taliban assault that for eight hours on Friday turned one of the capital’s most upscale neighborhoods into a battleground.
“Both the police and our … guards, they held their ground and fought for two hours until they found a time when they could grab our staff and take them out of the compound,” he said at a news conference along with his deputy, Enira Krdzalic, who herself survived the siege.
Three Afghans, a police officer and two civilians, died in the heavy fighting that kicked off with a suicide bomb, the Ministry of Interior’s spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said.
Details of the chaotic siege were still emerging two days later. Danziger said earlier police reports that one of the group’s armed Nepalese guards died was not true, though five of the guards were wounded along with four IOM staff, including one Italian woman badly burned by a grenade. All of the attackers were killed.
Danziger said the attack was clearly planned to target the international staff and the gunmen appeared to know the layout of at least part of the compound.
Danziger, who was out of Afghanistan during Friday’s siege, said he was “mystified” as to why IOM was targeted. Insurgent assaults on aid groups are relatively rare, though attacks have hit guest houses used by the U.N. in the past. The IOM is a U.N.-affiliated agency assisting returning Afghan migrants as well as those displaced internally.
A Taliban spokesman on Friday said the insurgents had launched an attack on a group of CIA trainers for the Afghan security forces, but Danziger stressed that the group has no affiliation with the American spy agency
When the Taliban car bomb slammed into the IOM’s southeastern gate just after 4 p.m. on Friday, only about 12 international staff who live in the compound and another dozen Afghan employees were inside along with the Nepalese guards, said Danziger.
Most of the Afghan staff escaped from the main gate and took three international workers with them. Nine other staff, including Krdzalic, fled to a fortified “strong room” along with one foreigner working for the International Labor Organization who also lived in the guest house.
“They were basically in direct line of attack,” said Danziger. He said the Taliban attackers were armed with rocket-propelled grenade launchers that they fired from the building and, later, from upper floors of nearby offices they took over.
“You can imagine it was a very confusing situation inside the strong room. Not to mention we had this one (wounded) colleague of ours who they were desperately trying to keep out of going into shock,” he said.