KABUL - Less than two hours after President Obama left Afghanistan, powerful explosions shook Kabul on Wednesday as a team of suicide attackers struck a private residential compound used by hundreds of foreigners in the east of the city, breaching the outer perimeter and leaving at least eight dead - seven Afghans and a guard - and about 17 wounded, officials said.
At around 6:15 a.m., attackers wearing suicide vests drove a car packed with explosives up to the main gate of the compound, called the Green Village. A heavily secured campus of about 4 acres, hedged by razor-wire tipped walls, it houses the residences of US military contractors, Department of Defense civilian employees, as well as some European diplomats, United Nations employees, and other foreign workers. It is in a neighborhood of NATO bases and contractor compounds.
The attackers detonated the car, causing an explosion heard across the city and blowing open the gate, allowing at least two other attackers to storm inside. They occupied a parking garage, where they set off other strong explosions, police officers and witnesses said. A firefight with private guards and Afghan security forces lasted about four hours before the attackers were subdued before entering the main residential area.
The private compound abuts Qabal Bay High School, where at least two students were killed during the fighting and as many as 10 were wounded, some seriously, officials said.
Kabul was already on nervous standby after a series of coordinated attacks on April 15, when armed men infiltrated the city’s security cordons and unleashed rockets and gunfire on areas including the Parliament and the embassy district.
Obama had arrived at Bagram Air Base outside Kabul late Tuesday. He then flew to Kabul to sign a strategic partnership agreement with President Hamid Karzai laying out the West’s long-term security commitment to Afghanistan. The Green Village is about 3 or 4 miles from the presidential palace, where the two leaders met.
The US ambassador, Ryan C. Crocker, said the insurgents had struck far from anywhere visited by the president, who had returned to Bagram before flying out of Afghanistan at about 4:25 a.m. “While we regret the loss of life, this was not militarily significant,’’ he said in a briefing with reporters. “If this is the best they can do, they are not winning this war.’’
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was a message to Obama.
In a telephone interview, Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said: “As soon as the Mujahideen learned about Obama’s trip to Kabul we planned to conduct an operation at the heart of the city to send a message to Obama that instead of signing strategic partnerships and instead of imposing a corrupt and unpopular government over the people of Afghanistan, he should think of ways to withdraw his troops from Afghanistan.’’