KABUL, Afghanistan In Kabul, "Taliban Tuesdays" are becoming a grim joke.
For the fourth consecutive week, suicide attackers picked Tuesday to strike in the Afghan capital, this time hitting a logistics company compound on the east side of Kabul with a truck bomb so big that it shattered windows a quarter of a mile away.
Five security guards and two truck drivers who were waiting to enter the compound were killed, Kabul Police Chief Gen. Mohammad Ayoub Salangi said.All five attackers also were killed, one in the blast and the others in a gun battle with security guards and police.
The timing of the attack, in the early morning hours Tuesday, fit a pattern. Previous Tuesday targets were the country’s supreme court building, the presidential palace and an adjacent CIA compound, and the convoy of a politician. A fifth recent attack, on the military side of the international airport, took place on a Monday.
The attacks haven’t caused serious damage or large numbers of casualties, except for the attack outside the courthouse, which left 17 dead and dozens wounded. But together they’ve created a steady drumbeat of violence in the capital. That, rather than damage, is the insurgents’ goal, U.S. and Afghan analysts said.
"These attacks are almost purely for psychological effect," said Seth Jones, who served on the staff of the U.S. Special Operations Command chief in Afghanistan and is now associate director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corp. "They’re picked up in the media, and are designed to show they can strike anywhere, even though they can’t really control urban territory.
"It’s a tactic the mujahedeen used in the 1980s and that we see in other insurgent groups. What they’re trying to do is push a message to the U.S. public, the Afghans and the international community that the Americans are leaving and the situation is hopeless, even though in truth it’s not hopeless."
Atiqullah Amarkhil, a former Afghan army general who’s now a military analyst, said the Taliban couldn’t win the war but could improve their negotiating position for any settlement.
"As a military power, I don’t believe that the Taliban could capture the country and rule over the people, but as 2014 is closing in and the Afghan National Security Forces have taken the security lead, they are trying to show the normal people that they can knock on the doors of the presidential palace and other important facilities and disrupt the normal life," he said. "They are trying to show the Afghan government and the international community that it’s insecure even in Kabul to get some sort of benefits and privileges." U.S. and other international combat forces are scheduled to leave Afghanistan next year.
The regular attacks will continue, the insurgents warned.
"We will continue our ongoing operation on the Afghan and foreign facilities in the future," Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid wrote in an emailed statement.
The name of the company targeted was unclear late Tuesday. The Taliban quickly claimed credit via email and text message, saying they’d struck the logistics company Supreme, which provides food to NATO bases here. A police spokesman also identified the compound as Supreme’s, but that company’s local base is a few miles from the site of the attack, and a Supreme spokeswoman in Dubai, Carissa Crowley, said the reports were inaccurate and that neither Supreme nor any of its subcontractors had been hit.
Truck drivers who were waiting in a parking area across a dirt road from the compound said they were transporting food in refrigerated containers.
The attack began at 4:30 a.m., when the truck exploded in front of the high-walled compound, which had a guard tower above the main gate.
The shock wave was so vicious that workers in an ice factory a quarter of a mile away said that as the windows imploded and baseball-sized rocks and vehicle parts rained on their compound, they thought that a rocket had hit their building.
"It was the loudest and most scary noise I have ever heard, and I have never seen such fire and smoke," Ahmad Jawed said.
The explosion destroyed several trucks in the lot across from the gate. Drivers waiting there for the logistics company to open said that after the blast, four insurgents began shooting at the compound and parking area.
Salangi said police responded to the blast and killed the remaining attackers in a firefight that lasted a bit under an hour, and defused three suicide vests the attackers had been wearing.
Truck driver Abdul Hameed had arrived overnight and parked in the holding lot across the road from the gate. He was outside his truck when the explosion happened, and was wounded in the leg.
“I believe that 20 truck drivers and their helpers were killed or injured," he said. "These attacks only harm the civilians and poor people. We were out to feed our family. This is not the act of a Muslim.”
The attack came a day after a spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, Siddiq Siddiqi, said 299 national and local police officers had been killed in fighting last month, a jump of 20 percent from June 2012. More than 600 were wounded.
On Tuesday, the Afghan National Police thwarted another major attack on Kabul, seizing 10 rockets on a mountain above the city, Salangi wrote in a message on Twitter.