Monday, January 18, 2010

Just another day in Kabul

As I was sitting at my desk, writing a story on the new Afghan biometrics capability, my email notice messenger went off – Ding! Ding! Ding! Distracted from my story, I checked my email and saw the words: explosions, rocket fire, small arms fire, Kabul.

Random rocket attacks are fairly common occurrence in Kabul so I wasn’t immediately interested but in rapid succession, three more emails popped up – reports of suicide bombers at the minister of finance and justice were coming in. These buildings are just a few hundred meters away … and suddenly I was interested. I walked out to the main office where the TV was on - Al Jazeera reporters were on scene and had more details. A suicide bomber had attacked the presidential palace; a hotel was engulfed in flames and reports of suicide bombers loose in the city and green zone. The footage was shaky and unclear, but it conveyed the sense of confusion and distress felt by a city under attack.

To get a better view, we went onto the roof where we could hear the rapid gunfire and see the billows of smoke. The gun fire was steady and at times loud … it was difficult to tell exactly how far away. The Mongolian’s security forces stationed here were deployed to provide assistance and our commander pulled us of the roof. Back downstairs, the TV had updated news – a suicide bomber detonated himself at the gates of the presidential palace. After a few minutes, I decided to go back to my desk and try to do some more work. Not a minute later, I heard gunfire – this time louder, as we couldn’t hear it inside before. Suddenly the base loudspeaker, or giant voice, went off announcing that the base had to go to amber status – all personnel had to put their IBA on and report to the bunkers.

I grabbed my vest, helmet and of course, laptop. Anyone could tell we were a bunch of Public Affairs workers – all of us had laptops, camera’s, video cameras, notebooks etc. We crowded into the bunker, waiting for further direction. In a way it was extremely frustrating; most expressed the desire to do something … get outside and document what was happening, fight back, help out, anything but just sit there. Our chief, recognizing our frustration, told us that we’re doing exactly we would should be doing but I know if my co-workers felt anything close to what I did, it was a mix of frustration, anxiety and excitement. We were sitting there, talking about what we'd heard outside and on the news before we had to leave. MC2 Horvath helped lighten the mood with a few jokes and soon, everyone was joking and laughing, trying to keep the mood light, when BOOM, we heard another explosion.

After awhile, we got the clear to come out of the bunker since we were in a hardened facility, but had to stay inside; most of us gathered around the television or computers to see if there were news updates. Dozens of emails with details about the attack were coming in – buildings on fire, additional explosions, gun fights etc. The Taliban had already claimed responsibility and said their plan was to attack the ministries of finance and justice, central bank and presidential palace by sending out 20 suicide bombers – some of them were the explosions we were hearing.

I learned from my co-workers that it was exactly one year ago today that a 500 pound vehicle-borne improvised explosive device was detonated next to Camp Eggers, a reminder that while we’re in a fortified area, anything can happen. Today was also the day that Afghan President Hamid Karzai was to have sworn in 14 new cabinet members; I have to wonder if the attacks were a coincidence or not. It seems to have been a well-planned out assault, striking multiple locations within the city simultaneously, and even now, hours later, there is still the sound of explosions, sirens and helicopters overhead. As the excitement from the morning wore off, things in the office settled down and we slowly turned our minds to more ordinary things - if the dining facility was open and our work we still needed to finish - I heard one of my co-workers sum up the day with, “It’s just another morning in Kabul.”


  1. Sounds like my last trip to Iraq. Please be safe Sarah.

  2. Chris said it best. That sh** never stops. Remember to breathe during those events.