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(a quick, unedited message from Kabul)
29 June 2011
There is heavy security around Kabul. A “ring of steel,” as they call it, which is under Afghan authority. I’ve been driving around Kabul for several weeks and have never seen a foreign guard, and seldom see US or other forces on the roads. I’ve been walking around town, shopping in shops and eating in restaurants. All day yesterday and today I was out in the city with no weapon and no troops. I wear Western clothes and sunglasses and seldom get an extra look while driving around in various sorts of taxis and private cars. Expats are out past midnight at the few local restaurants that sell alcohol. This is not Baghdad. Fighting there was nearly constant and often sustained. If this were Baghdad, I’d have been dead the first day. Any ideas that Kabul is falling are remarkably wrong. There are, however, some dangers and occasional suicide attacks that are nakedly designed to get press.
Last night, as I was preparing for bed, a message arrived from a US military officer cautioning about an ongoing attack with approximately six suicide bombers. I am staying off base so the military was just making sure all was okay. I responded immediately to affirm all is okay. I am far from the attack. I had not even heard any explosions or gunfire. Six minutes later, Taliban Spokesman Zabihullah Mojahid emailed me. My normal translators were asleep, so I sent it back to the US military asking for a translation, and they were kind enough to help:
News release from Zabihullah Mojahid:
At 10.00 pm our Devoted Mojahid attacked Hotel Intercontinental in Kabul while 300 Afghans and foreign occupier countries high rank officials are attending a gathering in the hotel; the attack is still ongoing. First, the Mujahedin killed the security officers at the gate and then they entered the Hotel. They killed and injured many of the high rank officials, both Afghans and foreigners. Just minutes ago, the devoted Mojahid called me from the Hotel and told me that they are fighting successfully. We lost only one Mujaheed. We are in every level of the hotel. So far we killed 50 of the domestic and foreign enemies. Right now, we are in all saloons and we go rooms to rooms and kill one by one of those who managed to go to their rooms, they are foreigners. Tonight 300 were gathered for an important meeting. INSHALLAH all will be killed.
Zabihullah was telling the truth, at least partly. He has been consistently fast about getting out the Taliban message. Usually, from what I have seen, there is a basis in truth and then Zabihullah gets into wild overstatement. I’ve never seen him completely lie, or completely tell the truth, though it’s possible he does both at times.
By now it was after midnight and sirens could be heard, and aircraft in the distance. I heard an unconfirmed report that men could be seen firing from the roof of the hotel, and could be seen smoking. If this were true, our helicopters would kill them shortly. I heard a distant explosion from the direction of the hotel, posted it to Facebook and then went to bed.
This morning, I asked some contacts for photos, and I bought the copyright for these images from Nazir Ekhlass. Nazir explained each photo to me. Nazir had his camera on a tripod and used a timer, keeping the shutter open for around twenty seconds.
Nazir explained that there was much shooting from numerous places. Helicopters arrived and began taking groundfire.
Firing on helicopters.
Firing more on helicopters.
There were multiple firing points that were not on the hotel.
I doubt these were helicopters. Possibly UAVs that turned their lights on to avoid air traffic or to distract the terrorists.
This image is computer generated synthesis of the previous images.