KABUL, Afghanistan - Ten terrified international aid workers huddled inside a fortified room in Kabul for two hours during a Taliban attack until they were rescued by Afghan police, the aid group said Sunday. A NATO commander said the dramatic operation bodes well for the country's future without foreign forces.
An Afghan police officer and two civilians were killed. The top commander of the international military coalition said the relatively low number of casualties was a sign of how Afghan forces have "markedly improved" as they increasingly take over responsibility for protecting the country ahead of most foreign troops' withdrawal next year.
That militants were able to launch two attacks in the capital in a little over a week - another car bomb killed six Americans and nine Afghan bystanders eight days before - prove how fierce a fight Afghan forces face. Still, Maj. Gen Joseph Osterman, director of operations for the coalition, said he has seen "marked improvement" over previous years. "This particular one was very impressive," he said.
Richard Danziger, chief of mission for the International Organization for Migration, thanked police for the rescue during Friday's Taliban assault with a car bomb and attackers wearing suicide bomb vests and wielding shoulder-fired grenade launchers. He also praised the group's armed Nepalese guards, five of whom were wounded.
"Both the police and our ... guards, they held their ground and fought for two hours until they found a time when they could grab our staff and take them out," Danziger said at a news conference with his deputy, Enira Krdzalic, who survived the siege.
All four of the attackers were killed. A 6-year-old girl initially reported dead turned out to be among the 17 wounded, Sediqqi said.
Danziger, who was out of Afghanistan during Friday's siege, said he was "mystified" as to why IOM was targeted. Insurgent assaults on aid groups are relatively rare, though past attacks have hit U.N. guest houses. The IOM is a U.N.-affiliated agency assisting returning Afghan migrants as well as those displaced by fighting. Danziger said the staff would resume work Monday in temporary quarters.
The Taliban claimed it attacked CIA trainers for the Afghan security forces, but Danziger stressed that the group has no affiliation with the American spy agency.
When the car bomb slammed into the IOM's southeastern gate just after 4 p.m. on Friday, about 12 international staff and another dozen Afghans were inside along with the Nepalese guards, Danziger said. The Afghan staff escaped through the main gate and took three international workers with them. Nine other staff, including Krdzalic, fled to a fortified "strong room" along with one foreigner working for the International Labor Organization. Danziger said it took Afghan police two hours to get to the room and get the staff members out.