A team of burqa-clad bombers and gunmen stormed a heavily guarded residential compound used mainly by Western contractors early Wednesday, killing seven people, including a carload of Afghan passers-by and a student on his way to school, officials said. All four attackers died, as well.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack and described it as signaling disgust and anger at the surprise overnight visit by President Obama, who had departed the country shortly before the first heavy explosion echoed across the city.
Investigators expressed doubts, however, that a multipronged attack involving a vehicle bomb and a large array of weaponry could have been marshaled so quickly, because Obama's presence was not disclosed until he was already on the ground, and he left before dawn.
Even so, the attack -- the second major strike in Kabul in less than three weeks -- served as the insurgents' thunderous rejoinder to Obama's assertion that the decadelong war has yielded sufficient security gains that Western troops can leave on schedule in 2014.
The Taliban movement also declared that today will mark the start of its annual spring offensive, which it said would target foreign troops, Western contractors and members of the government of President Hamid Karzai.
With the arrival of warmer temperatures in recent days, the tempo of fighting has been quickening. Wednesday, the NATO force reported the deaths of two service members in an explosion in Afghanistan's east. The east, which borders Pakistan's tribal areas and has been used as a springboard for attacks by insurgents, is expected to be the focus of fighting in coming months. The NATO force deployed in the east is primarily made up of Americans.
NATO's International Security Assistance Force sought to downplay the significance of Wednesday's attack in Kabul, in which the assailants breached the tightly guarded contractor compound on the capital's eastern edge, known as the Green Village, but did not manage to kill any of its occupants, who swiftly took shelter in fortified bunkers.
A spokesman for the coalition, German Brig. Gen. Carsten Jacobson, portrayed the strike as a sign of weakness on the insurgents' part, noting that nearly all the victims were Afghan civilians. "This is another desperate attack by the Taliban," Jacobson said.
Although the attack was relatively small in scale, it brought now-familiar scenes of chaos on a busy thoroughfare leading eastward out of the city. Plumes of smoke rose, bloodstained debris littered the street, and the headless body of one of the attackers was hurled 50 yards by the force of the explosion he set off.
Obama's visit came a year to the day after the U.S. raid that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in a military garrison town in Pakistan, but the Taliban statement did not mention the anniversary. The group did, however, assail the long-term partnership agreement signed by Obama and Karzai during the visit, which promises U.S. aid and engagement for a decade after nearly all Western combat troops depart.