Cables From Kabul - Mangled Jihad Neck Flesh
Yesterday, our friends Conor Creighton and Henry Langston flew out to Afghanistan to see what it'd be like to spend three weeks in a Holy War zone. They'd not been there 24 hours before three suicide bombers exploded themselves in one of the most heavily fortified hotels in Kabul.Eleven civilians, nine Taliban and a handful of Afghan police all died in the attack, which was drawn out for five hours as militants and NATO forces exchanged gunfire. We got in touch with Conor and Henry this morning to make sure they were still alive and to see what was up.
VICE: Hey Conor, it's Andy. Are you OK? What happened when you woke up this morning?
Conor Creighton: Yeah, we're fine. This morning we awoke to the sound of an ice-cream seller out on the street. Then I checked my Facebook and there were about ten people asking me if I was OK. I checked the BBC website, and it said there had been all these bombs and explosions at the Intercontinental Hotel.
Didn't the explosions wake you up? How far are you from the Intercontinental?
We're staying in another hotel about half a kilometre away, but no, we didn't hear a thing. Slept like happy babies. We jumped in a taxi and arrived at the Intercontinental about half an hour ago. They wouldn't let us into the front of the building, where one of the guys blew himself up, so we snuck around the back. From where I'm standing now, one side of the hotel is completely blackened, like a fire-gutted house, and there's a window that's been exploded out. The balcony looks like it's melted off and is peeling away from the building like a drunk girl's bra-strap.
Conor and Henry
Who wouldn't let you in the front of the building? Are there any important people hanging about?
There are certainly some strange people hanging about. No one seems to be doing much. We were sitting at this little drinks tent on the hill beneath the hotel, and these two guys came and sat with us. At first they told us that they were unemployed, but after they'd gauged us a bit they showed us the guns they had tucked beneath their robes. Then they said, really nonchalantly, that there would be another attack tonight. When we asked them how they knew this, they just starting grinning and said "We know, we know". They were pretty conspicuous. I don't think secret police in the West would behave like that. A few minutes later there were some bursts of gunfire in the distance and they both got up and ran into the bushes overlooking the city with their pistols drawn.
We just ran into the Afghan communications officer, too. He posed for photos with us but couldn't speak any English.
"The Afghan communications officer"
He sounds well-qualified to be a communications officer. You only arrived in Afghanistan yesterday. Has this shat you up at all?
It's weird, because until this me and Henry have just been walking around like we're in Thailand on holiday or something. We ran into some kid who tried to weigh us for money and then he tried to teach us the language. It's all been very friendly, but now we're stood outside the wreckage of a hotel where a dozen or so people have just died. It seems to be very normal for people out here. Because of that, you don't really feel scared. It's very chaotic, dusty and hot here, and people stare at you wherever you go, but it's not scary.
"The kid who weighs people for cash"
So what happened last night?
Six Taliban came to the hotel. The first one set off his bomb vest in the lobby, another detonated his on the second floor and a third one hid in a room until a Spanish tourist arrived and then he set his off. Three more Taliban were killed on the roof by some NATO guys in a helicopter. The thing about the hotel is that it's on top of a hill in the city, it's surrounded by trees... even though it's not as heavily fortified as the media and government says it is, it still took some balls to come up here. The Intercontinental is probably one of the safest civilian places in the city. It's the highest place in the city, too. All of Kabul will have been able to see what's gone on here this morning.
"Henry and his bodyguard"
But does Kabul care, Conor?
We were talking to our taxi driver this morning, and he was like "Oh yeah, bloody Taliban again". He didn't seem that surprised by it. For most people here it's just life as normal. This Afghan photographer we met did tell us this attack was a little out-of-the-norm, though, as the Taliban came in the middle of the night.
Did they do this for any particular reason?
Well, NATO have decided recently that they'll no longer be in charge of police and military duties here, they'll just be facilitators. So this is maybe the Taliban sending a warning that they'll still be here even though America's pulling out somewhat.
It also seems to be in line with a lot of stuff the Taliban have been doing these last few months – these very desperate, low-funded attacks that give the impression they don't have any brains or intel at the top, that it's all just planned at home with the limited funds they have.
What's Kabul been like so far, other than this perfectly normal suicide bomb attack?
It's alright. We're not allowed to wear shorts because you're not allowed to show any leg above the knee, so that's a bit of a pain in the arse. I had to step in to veto Henry's hotpants.
Have you detected any anti-Western feeling so far?
Nah, we were taking pictures from the taxi and people were waving at us and putting their thumbs up.
Does thumbs up mean the same thing over there as it does over here, though?
Ha, I don't know actually. I guess thumbs up could be the Afghan symbol for "retreat now or die you filthy Western taxi pigs", but I'll have to let you know on that. There's just that naive curiosity that surrounds you whenever you're a Westerner travel somewhere in the Third World. Some kids just showed us a piece of suicide bomber, too. They said it was from his neck, but to be honest it was just a big piece of mangled, burnt flesh. It could have come from anywhere.
Great. Are you up to much for the rest of the day?
There's a party later. Free drinks!