Taliban Claims Responsibility For Kabul Attack

May 2, 2012

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

News is slowly spreading across Afghanistan of President Obama's midnight visit to Kabul. And Afghans woke up this morning to a darker kind of news as well - that car bomb attack on a foreign aid compound little more than a mile from where the two presidents met hours earlier. NPR Kabul bureau chief Quil Lawrence joins me here in Kabul.

And let's start with this morning's attack. Tell us what you know about it at this point in time.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: Well, it was a group of insurgents, as many as six. Some witnesses say that they were dressed in burqas and had their weapons and suicide vests hidden under their burqas. They drove a car up to the gate of this compound. They got out and then detonated the car with a huge bomb. Gunfights started with the guards and several of these attackers detonated suicide vests. International and Afghan forces scrambled to engage them.

The gunfight was over in a couple of hours. The casualties appear to be mostly bystanders who were killed in that initial car bomb blast. The Taliban say that this attack was linked to President Obama's visit. But there is some doubt. The sense we have here it is that the attack was probably - the attackers were already in place.

MONTAGNE: But just to be clear, President Obama had already left Afghanistan when these bombs started going off.

LAWRENCE: That's right. He had been gone from Kabul for about five hours and he'd probably already flown out of Bagram Airbase, north of here, when the attack began. President Obama choppered down to the city around midnight, signed the agreement with President Karzai, and then returned to Bagram Airbase.

That said, it's probably the closest a U.S. president has ever been to suicide bombers. And there was a major security breach. About four hours before President Obama even landed in Afghanistan, someone - probably within the Afghan government - leaked the news of the trip to the Afghan media. So we're supposing there must be some very angry people in the White House security detail right now.

MONTAGNE: Let's get back to that long-term partnership agreement. How are Afghans reacting to Presidents Obama and Karzai signing this last night? I mean at one level it must be a sigh of relief.

LAWRENCE: Well, this morning there wasn't really much reaction yet. Most people in Kabul, for example, were more distracted by this Taliban attack. And no one that we spoke with had even heard that President Obama had come and gone under the cover of darkness to sign this agreement.

Now, they have all heard about this agreement that was finalized in a draft form a couple of weeks ago. And in the long-term, the question is whether Afghans are going to be reassured by it. A whole year since President Obama announced the U.S. troop drawdown, Afghans have been very vocal about their fears that the country was going to be abandoned again, that it would be like after the Soviet withdrawal in 1991.

Afghan factions fought amongst themselves. There was a terribly bloody war which led to the rise of Taliban, which led to safe havens for al-Qaida. So the strategic partnership document explicitly says that the U.S. will stay, that they're going to have at least 10 years of commitment after 2014 to help Afghanistan.

But Afghans I have talked with say they'll believe it when they see it, two or five or eight years down the road, whether the U.S. is still here or whether America has lost interest and left them alone again.

MONTAGNE: Quil, what is Afghanistan going to have to deliver in return for an extra 10 years of an American commitment?

LAWRENCE: Well, this agreement, which is a legally binding treaty, says that Afghanistan must protect the rights of minorities and women, must commit itself to free and fair elections. These are very tall orders that, frankly, the Afghan government hasn't really measured up to so far. And so the question is, what happens if the next election in Afghanistan isn't free and fair? Does it constitute a breach of this agreement?

These are all promises, things that the Afghan government says they'd like to see, things that the American government would like to see. And perhaps they give America some leverage as their presence here diminishes to push the Afghan government in that direction.

MONTAGNE: Quil, thanks.

LAWRENCE: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Quil Lawrence with me here at NPR's bureau in Kabul.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And we'll be hearing Renee Montagne's reporting from Afghanistan in the days ahead.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.