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High-Rise Buildings Pose Growing Security Threat in Kabul

Afghan policeman stand guard after a battle with insurgents who took over a building in Kabul, Afghanistan, April 16, 2012.
Afghan policeman stand guard after a battle with insurgents who took over a building in Kabul, Afghanistan, April 16, 2012.
Baharat Sabir

In two high profile attacks in the Afghan capital, insurgents used high-rise buildings that were under construction to target Afghan and foreign institutions.  Our reporter has more on the growing security threat these buildings pose and why they are being constructed so close to sensitive areas of Kabul.  

Earlier this week, insurgents targeted the presidential palace, foreign embassies and other strategic locations during a deadly attack in Kabul. The 18-hour assault that began Sunday only ended when Afghan security forces backed by NATO helicopters fired on the last attackers who had seized an unfinished building in the diplomatic enclave.

In a similar attack last September, insurgents occupied the upper floors of an unfinished building in Kabul, firing bullets and rockets at the U.S. Embassy, NATO headquarters and Afghan intelligence headquarters.

Kabul has seen a construction boom in recent years, but many of the buildings that have emerged among mud houses and the rubble of war remain incomplete for years due to very slow construction work.

Afghan finance ministry advisor Najib Manalai is closely watching this development and considers unfinished high-rise buildings a grave threat to security in the capital.

"We have several buildings all around the presidential palace which could be easily used by anyone who wants to attack the palace," said Manalai. "Kabul has such buildings all over the city; some of them even close to military installations. These buildings have been built out of the norms of the city. Besides a security threat they have other negative sides too."

The building used during last year's attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul is reportedly owned by a member of the Afghan parliament.

Manalai says property owners and officials who allows these buildings to go up are equally to blame.

"We can’t say high-ranking officials in the government are unaware of the construction of these buildings," he said. "They are partners in many of these buildings. It is said that when permission for a big building is needed, a mayor is brought in to do the job. As soon as the mayor signs the papers on that huge building he is replaced by another mayor."

Kabul residents, like Lema, who live close to these unfinished high-rises are also worried about their safety.  

"These buildings could be used by insurgents, suicide bombers and other criminals, because nobody knows who owns them, nobody protects them and nobody can question who they belong to," said Lema. "We have a building which lay incomplete for the last eight years. No one knows who the owner of the building is. It has no protection and no one oversees it. We see people coming into the building at night, but no one comes into it during the day."

Kabul's technical deputy mayor, Abdul Ahad, says there are at least three such high-rise buildings whose owners are unknown, and the properties have changed hands at least three or four times. He says this is just part of the problem.

"According to our last year’s evaluations around  50 percent of such buildings have illegally been constructed and have no legal permits from the municipality," said Ahad. "This is a huge issue. We are working on a new construction evaluation rule and will reevaluate all these illegal constructions based on these new rules."

The Kabul official says the new rules will mandate that work be completed within a certain timeframe and that overall, there will be greater oversight of future construction projects.

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