It's all-out war in Kabul

Weekends in Kabul can be real fun. It was no different yesterday. Kite flying and horse riding at Tappe Nadir Shah, street photography in Shehr e Naw, shopping at Gulbahar City Center, brunch at Serena Hotel. It was a fabulous day till all hell broke loose and joys turned into melancholy. This city can be so ruthlessly unpredictable. You think it’s peaceful and calm and then suddenly a storm erupts and you are forced to eat your words. Yes, all the talk about Afghanistan bouncing back is no fluff. The war-weary country has embraced change after groping in the dark for decades. But, it remains a tinderbox that it has always been and the people continue to live on the razor’s edge. I realized it lastnight.

At around 7 pm, we were driving home after a rip-roaring day, if I may call it so. I was telling my friends how safe Kabul has become and why it is important for the international forces to withdraw and hand over the reins to local Afghan security forces. As we reached the 15th street of Wazir Akbar Khan, a highly-fortified diplomatic enclave of Kabul and home to many embassies and high-end restaurants, a friend warned me about the unpredictability and fickleness of situation in Kabul. You never know what happens when and where, he said.

As the car turned right on the 15th street and was barely 30 meters away from my residence, we heard a massive explosion, following by heavy burst of gunfire


As the car turned right on the 15th street and was barely 30 meters away from my residence, we heard a massive explosion, following by heavy burst of gunfire. My friends looked at me and I looked at them. We parked the car inside, and I turned to security guards. “Is it some crazy festival tonight,” I asked. “No Sir, it is a terrorist attack nearby,” said one of them. There was a moment of silence, interrupted by the deafening sound of gunfire. We realized it was too close.

Someone called to inform it was near Spinney’s, a high-end departmental store, barely 100 meters from our place. The U.S. embassy, which is at a few kilometer distance, immediately sent out alarm calls. Soon we received a confirmation that it was a suicide attack and target was a popular Lebanese restaurant, La Taverna du Liban. The owner of the restaurant, Kamal Hamadi, a Lebanese national, was among the 21 killed in the attack. The Head of IMF’s Kabul office and four UN employees were also killed.

The restaurant is barely 50 meters from our place on the same street. We rushed to the spot but the roads had been cordoned off and there was total chaos. The cops said three terrorists had ambushed the restaurant, which is popular among foreigners. One of them detonated his explosives outside the gate of the restaurant and the other two barged inside.  Carrying AK-47 rifles, the two terrorists went on murderous rampage, firing indiscriminately at everyone. The operation was on till 10 pm, before ambulances arrived at the spot.

The American Embassy, a number of European embassies and the NATO headquarters are all in close proximity; the Norwegian Embassy is in the same lane


Journalists were not allowed too close to the restaurant as police feared one of them might still be holed up inside. Some media organisations got emails from Taliban claiming responsibility for the attack. The statement said they have targeted “a foreign restaurant where foreign invaders were having dinner.” According to the cook who escaped miraculously, the bombers screamed "Allah-u-Akbar" before blowing themselves up.  So, their intention was clear, and it could have been any one of us.

This is unarguably the most popular Lebanese restaurant on 15th street catering to large number of expats living in this locality. The American Embassy, a number of European embassies and the NATO headquarters are all in close proximity. The Norwegian Embassy is in the same lane.  

It was the second major attack on foreigners in less than two weeks. On January 4, there was an explosion outside an American military base in Kabul.

Even though the international forces are scheduled to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of this year,  16000 US led allied forces will be staying back to train Afghan forces and for counter insurgency operations after 2014. On the other hand, the stalemate over the US-Afghan bilateral security agreement continues and it has generated lot of debate in recent months. Just after the agreement was passed by Loya Jirga – a grand council of Afghan tribal elders, political leaders and lawmakers – last month, Taliban issued a damning statement, warning of its repercussions. 

With historic Presidential elections in Afghanistan just two months away, there is a likelihood of more such audacious attacks. It is an all-out war. “Welcome to Kabul,” says my friend, as we take a stroll on the deserted 15th street a day after the attack. 

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