KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – There was mayhem Monday in the streets of Kandahar as three suicide bombers staged a failed attack on the city’s intelligence headquarters and NATO troops opened fire on a passenger bus, killing four civilians.
The shooting in Senjaray, just outside of the provincial capital, sparked a tire-burning demonstration by locals, who shouted anti-Western slogans.
The Taliban assault on the offices of the National Directorate of Security prompted a 45-minute gun battle in the heart of the city, with the would-be bombers using a nearby school as a launching pad for the assault.
Eyewitnesses said the three attackers, each carrying what looked to be book bags, arrived by local taxi – known as a tuk-tuk.
“They took out their guns from the school bags,” Fazel Ahmed, one of the students, told The Canadian Press. “When they pointed guns upon us, we (were) scared and threw our bicycles, ran and got in to the classroom.”
The trio was also carrying hand grenades and suicide vests. Using a ladder, they climbed from the schoolyard on to the roof of the NDS building, where two of the attackers were gunned down.
One of the bombers was captured.
Kandahar Governor Tooryalai Wesa said four intelligence officers and five children were injured, two of them seriously.
“There will be an investigation,” said Wesa, an Afghan-Canadian who used to live in B.C.
Canadian military officials said it was gratifying to see how quickly Afghan police and intelligence agents reacted to the attack, cordoning off the scene without assistance.
“The quick, effective response of the ANP and ANA in dealing with this cowardly attack is an indicator of their growing capacity and capability,” said Maj. Daryl Morrell, the Canadian task force spokesman.
It is the second brazen, daylight assault on the city in a month. In mid-March, the Taliban launched three co-ordinated bombings that left more than 30 people dead.
Wessa said it’s hard to know if there will be more such spectacular raids as NATO builds up for a planned offensive later this spring.
“I’m sure the insurgency will try to show their presence one way or another,” he said.
At the same time, Wesa condemned the bus shooting along a highway in the volatile Zhari district. “Kandaharis are very upset and the entire country is very upset with such incidents.”
In the wake of the shooting, hundreds of protesters blocked the country’s main highway, chanting “Death to America” and calling for the ouster of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Civilian casualties caused by NATO troops frequently serve as flashpoints of anger for Afghans, who routinely complain western soldiers are too trigger-happy.
NATO, which has launched an investigation, put out a press statement Monday, saying the bus came at a high rate of speed towards a convoy that was searching for roadside bombs.
“The (International Security Assistance Force) patrol warned off the approaching vehicle once with a flashlight and three times with flares,” said the statement.
The soldiers then tried hand signals before opening fire.
It’s the second time in a week that NATO forces have been accused of killing civilians. U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal has instituted new rules on the use of force in order to win the trust of Afghans.
The bus was on its way to the province of Nimroz, in the western part of the country, when the shooting occurred.
One of the passengers, Haji Mahmood, said the Karzai government cannot let the attack go unanswered.
“We want our government to take action against this,” he told The Canadian Press.
“Everyone knows that these were just civilians and it was a civilian’s bus. How could they shoot at the bus?”