Taliban Attack CIA Headquarters in Kabul

[youtuber youtube=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vlgt2Xxn8MY’]


Yesterday, I noted that the more moderate faction of the Taliban in Afghanistan was beginning to gain more visibility in the wake of moves to decrease inflammatory aspects of the Taliban office opened in Qatar ahead of planned peace negotiations. Early this morning, the militant faction of the Taliban launched a sophisticated attack in Kabul that targeted the CIA’s Kabul headquarters in the Ariana Hotel.

As the attack unfolded, it was late Monday night in the US. Gary Owen, who Tweets as @ElSnarkistani, accurately deduced from the early reports that false papers were used to get past initial checkpoints into the more heavily fortified district surrounding Afghanistan’s Presidential Palace and ISAF headquarters. See this Twitter conversation and this subsequent one for the details he was able to provide on the location where the attack took place and what it would take for insurgents to gain access.

Using tactics that the Washington Post compared to the successful attack last September on Camp Bastion that destroyed six fighter jets, the attackers wore ISAF uniforms and had coalition markings on their vehicles. From today’s Washington Post:

Gen. Abdul Zaher Cid of the Kabul police, citing security forces who witnessed the attack, said the insurgents wore uniforms that resembled those of the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force and the two armored vehicles bore ISAF emblems.

One of the vehicles was able to get past a security barrier using fake documents, while the second was stopped, deputy police chief Mohammed Daud Amin said, quoting security officials present at the scene.

That bit about armored vehicles with ISAF emblems on them gave me quite a start at first, because I recalled that the US is in the process of destroying about 2000 of the heavily armored MRAP vehicles that it is not massing in other places for shipment to alternate US military sites. However, the New York Times identified the vehicle (or did two make it through?) that made it through the initial checkpoint as a Land Cruiser:

“Three suicide bombers were driving a land cruiser packed with explosives with a fake vehicle pass and they wanted to enter the presidential palace area but they were stopped at the gate,” the police chief, Gen. Ayoub Salangi, said in a brief telephone call. “We don’t know their main target.”

Once the guards realized that the pass was fake, the suicide bombers got out of the explosive-laden car and one of them detonated it, killing one of the attackers. The others got into a firefight with the guards, General Salangi said. However, people in the Afghan security forces who asked not to be identified said that there were two vehicles that got through a heavily guarded gate used only by ministerial-level officials.

Considering that this was a ministerial-level gate, the Land Cruiser makes more sense as the vehicle less likely to raise suspicions. In fact, armored Land Cruisers are even pitched to diplomats as available for rent in Afghanistan, so obtaining one of these and slapping an ISAF logo on it would seem to be a relatively easy task. However, with so many MRAPS being demobilized, we can only wonder when or if one will fall into Taliban hands and what damage they can do with it.

For a final exercise, it is very entertaining to read the coverage of this attack while looking at how each media outlet handles the question of whether to identify the Ariana Hotel as the location of CIA headquarters in Kabul. Both Reuters and Khaama Press come out and definitively say it is. The New York Times and Washington Post dance around the issue much more carefully, as does ToloNews.

The reporting at this time is uniform in saying only the insurgents (numbering from three to seven, depending on the source) and three Afghan troops were killed. Considering how long it took for the news of how damaging the attack at Camp Bastion was, it seems likely that we may never know how much damage was done to CIA headquarters in this attack, despite uniform reporting of a number of fairly large explosions in the area.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.
8 replies
  1. Garrett says:

    The moderate Taliban wing hadn’t renounced or been against things like attacks on CIA headquarters. In the interview, Mutasem Agha Jan just said there is a dual-track philosophy on the moderate side.

    One group, according to us, can be called moderate. They are the Taliban who, beside military efforts, believe in peaceful aspects as well.

    Unfortunately, the problem in Afghanistan is that those who emphasize war are being given more attention than those that are peaceful and desire stability, development, calmness, and a good life for Afghans.

    In addition to the opinion split about support for talks, there was a split about the end goal.

    Same as with the United States, really. Just because we are engaging in talks now, doesn’t mean that we have renounced violent attacks, or dialed back from them.

  2. Jim White says:

    @Garrett: Thanks. Important points that I had planned to make and then didn’t get to, especially the parallel fact that the US wants to enter peace negotiations but has not stopped its actions against “insurgents”, either.

  3. Garrett says:

    @Jim White:

    This statement, picked up in much of the U.S. coverage, gets to that pretty well:

    “All of the attackers were killed, without success in achieving their goals,” U.S. Ambassador James B. Cunningham said in a statement. “This again demonstrates the futility of the Taliban’s efforts to use violence and terror to achieve their aims.”

    Beyond the issue of newspapers relaying official absurdities, I’d ask, what is the real Taliban (?) goal here. And what is the real goal of the U.S.?

  4. gcwall says:

    Problems in Arab nations should be solved by a meeting of leaders of several Arab nations. Their decisions would have more validity with the Arab people and would exhibit sensitivity and knowledge of the issues at hand. A similar suggestion was dismissed by US officials before the invasion of Iraq. When more war is the reason for war, rather than bringing about peace the objective is corrupt.

  5. der says:

    – “The New York Times and Washington Post dance around the issue much more carefully, as does ToloNews.”

    Of course they did, to do otherwise would be aiding the enemy and upsetting David Gregory.

  6. Garrett says:


    A strong problem, I think. Times and Post reporters know much more about Afghanistan than what they report. They are in the business of not reporting, basically.

    Khaama Press I personally find odd and disorienting. It’s the most likely Afghanistan-based news source to explain that Hamid Karzai is the President of Afghanistan, Kabul is the capital of Afghanistan, Kandahar is a province in Afghanistan, and the like.


    At least four suicide bombers and three security guards of Afghan presidential palace were killed following attack in capital Kabul on Tuesday.

    Afghan interior ministry officials said the attack was carried out near the eastern entrance gate of the presidential palace around 6:30 am local time.

    Khaama Press


    The attack took place at around 6:30 am in the Shash Darak area of Kabul. According to reports, the militants used a fake VIP entrance card for their vehicle and managed to get inside the highly guarded area, home to not only the Presidential Palace, but the Ministry of Defence and other foreign military bases as well.

    Tolo News

  7. Garrett says:

    Here’s the best unreporting on the unheadquarters I’ve seen:

    In text messages to reporters, the Taliban claimed responsibility, saying several attackers targeted the presidential palace, the Ministry of Defense and a nearby hotel.

    LA Times

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