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September 13, 2013

Taliban Militants Attack US Consulate in Afghanistan

by Sharon Behn

The U.N. Security Council has condemned the militant attack on the U.S. consulate in the western Afghan town of Herat that killed three Afghan guards and one interpreter. Nearly 20 people were wounded in the assault.  

The Security Council said late Friday in a statement "terrorism in all its forms and manifestations is criminal and unjustifiable."  

Officials say the Taliban engaged in a gunfight and a suicide bombing just outside the consulate early Friday. International security forces returned fire and authorities say all the militants, some wearing suicide vests, were killed in the exchange.

The Security Council said no terrorist act can reverse "the path towards Afghan-led peace, democracy and stability in Afghanistan."

Eyewitnesses said the explosion rocked the walls in nearby buildings. Security forces returned fire on the attackers in a gunfight that left at least two police and the attackers dead, and more than a dozen wounded. The U.S. State Department said there were no American casualties.

Mohammad Sharif, a security guard for a private Afghan security company, was wounded in the attack. Speaking from the hospital in Herat, he said there were two blasts.

​​He said, he was fine after the first explosion, and was making a phone call, when there was a second explosion just as he was going out to hand duties to the guard at the front gate. He said there were six to 12 guards there at the time, all colleagues.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said at dawn a truck carrying a number of attackers drove to the front gate of the compound while firing on Afghan forces protecting the area. Then, the entire truck exploded, damaging the gate area. 

Harf said those in the consulate took shelter in the building as security forces fought to repel the attack. U.S. security staff, she said, “addressed” attackers who managed to enter the compound. Some attackers appeared to be wearing suicide explosives.

The International Security Assistance Force confirmed via Twitter that “enemy forces” had conducted an unsuccessful attack on the U.S. consulate. It said international and Afghan forces had secured the facility and all the militants had been killed.

Media photographs from the scene showed dead and bloodied bodies on the ground, and security forces carrying their wounded to safety.

In Kabul, embassy spokesman Robert Hilton shared with VOA Ambassador James Cunningham’s reaction to the assault.

“Many Afghans were killed in the attack. We are saddened by the senseless loss of life. The ambassador extended our prayers to the victims and their families and our hoped for their speedy recovery. This attack reminds us of the very human toll exacted by terrorism,” he said.

The Afghan government said it strongly condemned the terrorist attack against the U.S. consulate in Herat. The government said Friday’s attack showed that the “enemies of Afghanistan” had nothing to offer the country but death and destruction.

Herat, a city in western Afghanistan that lies near Iran, has been relatively quiet in recent years. The complex attack on the consulate shows that after 12 years of fighting, the Taliban still has the ability to strike at targets across the country.

But Friday’s battle also showed the ability of Afghan forces to repel militant assaults. Many in Afghanistan will welcome this as international combat troops wind down their operations and leave the country by the end of 2014.