A NATO helicopter flies over the unfinished building from which Taliban… (Massoud Hossaini / AFP/Getty…)
Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan — Afghan authorities on Wednesday morning said the last of six attackers who laid siege to the U.S. Embassy and other buildings from a high-rise structure had been killed and the area was secure.
The midmorning announcement by the Interior Ministry came nearly 21 hours after the start of the attack, raising troubling questions about why it took so long to secure the building under construction that the assailants used as a staging ground. From its upper floors, they rained rockets and gunfire on a heavily fortified enclave containing embassies, government buildings and the headquarters of the NATO force.
At least seven Afghans were killed and 17 injured in the attack, which began just after the lunch hour Tuesday. No one was reported hurt or killed inside the U.S. Embassy or NATO headquarters, where hundreds of staff spent the night in bunkers.
Throughout the night, sporadic gunfire could be heard as helicopters circled the building where the last of the assailants were holed up. Western troops provided aerial surveillance and other assistance but let Afghan police and soldiers take the lead in subduing the attackers, clearing the structure floor by floor.
The Taliban claimed responsibility and said the American Embassy was the primary target. Insurgents texted updates to journalists throughout the attack.
The audacious assault, the most serious against the embassy in the nearly 10-year war, was apparently meant to shake public confidence in the ability of the Afghan police and army to safeguard the country. The NATO force has begun handing over security responsibilities to Afghan troops, and American forces have begun a drawdown that will see the departure of 10,000 troops by the end of the year.
The siege paralyzed central Kabul, with shops and businesses closing and government workers fleeing their offices. People living close to the site huddled in their homes, listening to explosions and heavy machine-gun fire throughout the night.
Afghan authorities' investigation, already underway, is expected to focus on how the insurgents managed to smuggle so much weaponry into the center of the capital, penetrating a "ring of steel" made up of Afghan police checkpoints. In some past attacks, the Taliban and affiliated groups have had help from members of the Afghan security forces.
This was the third major attack in the capital in four months. Last month, insurgents besieged a British cultural center, and in June, teams of gunmen and bombers invaded a luxury high-rise hotel.
Special correspondent Aimal Yaqubi contributed to this report.