On the ninth floor of a half-complete high-rise building a quarter of a mile from the U.S. embassy here, there are signs of urban warfare. Unfinished plaster walls have been chipped away by the impact of hundreds of bullets. Pools of blood stain the cement where seven militants were killed and then, after their bodies were desecrated by angry Afghan police, dragged downstairs. Stun grenade cartridges -- used by international special operations forces -- and thousands of bullet casings lie between heaps of cement bags.
ABC News and other journalists received a tour from Afghan police a few hours after the longest siege in Kabulin 10 years of war ended -- nearly 20 hours after it began. Seven attackers believed to be from the Haqqani network, a Taliban affiliate, used dozens of incomplete rooms and right-angled staircases to fend off Afghan and international special operations forces. The building provided insurgents an almost perfect setting from which to launch rockets into NATO's main military headquarters and the U.S. embassy. At least six rockets hit inside the embassy, injuring four Afghans, but no Americans, according to U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker.
The battle to take the building back from insurgents took the lives of two policemen and three civilians and injured three international special operations forces, according to Afghan police officials and a spokesman for NATO troops. In total, 16 people died, not including the attackers. The siege also paralyzed a city of 4 million people for two days. Even after the attack ended, traffic in the city was non-existent. This was the third major attack in Kabul just in the last 10 weeks, the most violent period in Kabul in almost two years. Most residents today said the attack filled them with fear; if insurgents could get into an area so close to the base and embassy, they wondered, what would stop them from going anywhere they wanted?
But despite the length of the attack and the security breach next to one of the most secure areas in all of Afghanistan, U.S. officials tried to downplay its significance. Crocker even seemed to taunt the insurgents, calling the attack "minor league stuff" and "not a big deal."
But it has rattled an already on-edge population, and once again has called into question the ability of highly trained Afghan commandos to respond to major terrorist threats. Afghan police acknowledged they needed the help of international special operations forces -- believed to be from New Zealand -- with whom they have been training.
The attackers arrived at the site on Tuesday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. disguised in burqas, according to Kabul's police chief, Gen. Ayoub Salangi. They carried their weapons with them, but an intelligence official said they had possibly stored some additional firepower or ammunition in the building before they arrived. They killed two guards and took positions on the top floors. The ninth floor is where the majority of them seemed to have holed up. At least four died in a large open area and in one of the side rooms on that floor, according to Salangi.
U.S. Blames Haqqani Network
During the tour for reporters, police showed the bodies of four insurgents. Two had been shot through the eyes or between the eyes, and one's head had been blown half off. When crime scene investigators picked up one of the bodies, a live grenade was beneath him.
Even more quickly than normal, U.S. officials pointed the blame across the border at Pakistan and the Haqqani network, which is believed to be run out of the North Waziristan tribal area.
"We believe by virtue of the complexity of the attack and the way it was executed, that this probably was a Haqqani instigated attack," Lt. Gen. John Allen, commander of all international troops in Afghanistan, told reporters. "With regard to the safe havens, we talk to the Pakistanis all the time. We desire to partner with them to control insurgent infiltration across the border. On some occasions it works, but in particular we seek to have the Pakistani government place greater pressure on the Haqqani network to keep them on the east side of the border."
That request was echoed by Crocker, but for the Pakistanis, it is not so easy. In an exclusive interview with ABC News last week, Lt. Gen. Asif Yasin Malik, who commands the Pakistani army in northwest Pakistan, said he did not have enough troops to go after the Haqqani network. He also said an offensive against a militant group that attacks U.S. troops – but generally avoids attacking inside Pakistan – was not in Pakistan's interest, and Pakistan would not be bullied into anything by the U.S.
"I can't tell you how to do your job, right? You know best how to do it," he said to an American reporter. "This is our country. These are our people. These are our problems. We will go into North Waziristan if we want to go for our domestic reasons."