KABUL, (AP) – Afghan forces tightened security in Kabul on Tuesday, a day after a brazen Taliban assault on the capital left 12 people, including seven militants, dead and raised concerns about the government’s ability to protect even urban centers.
President Hamid Karzai ordered a review of the security plan for the capital but said Afghan troops should be praised for their performance in preventing an even bigger disaster.
Troops searched vehicles entering the city and increased the number of checkpoints, along with foot patrols and vehicle patrols, said deputy police chief Mohammad Khalil Dastyar.
The streets were otherwise calm, and traffic was back to normal following the attack, which left many roads deserted except for security forces as terrified Afghans raced for cover from explosions and machine-gun fire that echoed across the city. Afghan forces along with NATO advisers managed to restore order after nearly five hours of fighting.
The assault by a handful of determined militants dramatized the vulnerability of the Afghan capital, undermining public confidence in the ability of the government and its U.S.-led allies to provide security. A handful of gunmen — perhaps fewer than a dozen — paralyzed a city of 4 million for hours, forcing government ministries to stop work as police used the buildings for firing positions.
Mohammad Nasir, a taxi driver, said the government needs to do more to stop foreign attackers from crossing the border.
“They always say that these attackers are coming from outside, but they don’t have wings to fly from the sky and come here, so they come from the ground,” he said. “If we had professional Afghan forces, they could stop them … but we see we don’t have professional forces to keep them from coming.”
Karzai asked for the security review after he was briefed by the defense and interior ministers.
He also ordered special commendations for security forces who were killed or wounded and promised compensation for businesses that were damaged, according to a statement.
The attack unfolded as Cabinet members were being sworn in despite parliament’s rejection of most of Karzai’s choices in two rounds of voting.
With just 14 ministers confirmed, the president has named caretakers for the 11 vacant posts amid pressure to assemble a Cabinet ahead of a Jan. 28 international conference in London to discuss ways to shore up Afghanistan’s security and development.
Most of the caretakers were nominees who had been rejected by parliament. Several also were officially appointed as deputies in the ministries, meaning they will remain in office even after a new minister is named.
Seven attackers either blew themselves up with suicide vests or died in fierce gunbattles. The civilian casualty toll, meanwhile, was relatively low — two, including one child. Three security forces also were killed.
Most of the 71 people wounded suffered light injuries and all but three had been treated and released by Tuesday, according to Said Kabir Amiri, who oversees hospitals in Kabul.
One man who owned a store in a shopping center that was the site of one of the fiercest standoffs on Monday said the militants told the manager to evacuate the building before the fighting started.
“They did not take any one hostage. They had Kalashnikovs, but we came out without any harm,” Abdul Ghafar said Tuesday as he surveyed the charred exterior of the four-story building.
He criticized government forces for opening fire at the building instead of forcing the militants out by other means.
“Four or five families were dependent on each shop in here. Two, three or more were as partners in each shop and shared their money and invested in the mall,” he said.
NATO said the operation to secure the capital on Monday was Afghan-led, though it had explosives experts and other troops in supporting roles.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key said Tuesday that some of his country’s troops were caught up in the fight.
NATO military chief Adm. James Stavridis, who arrived in Kabul for a visit Monday as the attack was under way, lauded the Afghans for successfully containing the violence.
“Afghan national security forces effectively countered an insurgent attack in downtown Kabul,” he said in a statement, adding the coordinated effort “highlights their improved effectiveness in protecting Afghan citizens.”
The attacks, however, sent a message that the mostly rural Taliban are prepared to strike at the heart of the Afghan state even as the United States and its international partners are rushing 37,000 reinforcements to join the eight-year war.
It was the biggest assault on the capital since Oct. 28, when three gunmen with automatic weapons and suicide vests stormed a guest house used by U.N. staff, killing at least 11 people including five U.N. workers.
“The government should maintain good security at the four main entrances of Kabul city and should not let the suicide attackers and bad people enter our land and kill innocent people,” resident Mohammad Amin said.
Elsewhere, four Afghans who had been kidnapped along with two Chinese engineers were released Tuesday with the help of village mediation, three days after they were seized by Taliban militants on their way home from working on a road construction project in northwestern Afghanistan, an official said.
Afghan and NATO forces in the Ghormach area of Faryab province also killed 10 Taliban militants and detained three others late Monday in an operation linked to the kidnapping, the deputy provincial governor, Abdul Sattar Barez, said without elaborating.