KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban struck back less than two hours after President Barack Obama left Afghanistan on Wednesday, targeting a foreigners' housing compound with a suicide car bomb and militants disguised as women in an assault that killed at least seven people.
It was the second major assault in Kabul in less than three weeks and highlighted the Taliban's continued ability to strike in the heavily guarded capital even when security had been tightened for Obama's visit and Wednesday's anniversary of the killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in neighboring Pakistan.
Obama arrived at Bagram Air Field late Tuesday, then traveled to Kabul by helicopter for a meeting with President Hamid Karzai in which they signed an agreement governing the U.S. presence after combat troops withdraw in 2014. Later, back at the base, he was surrounded by U.S. troops, shaking every hand. He then gave a speech broadcast to Americans back home, before ending his lightning visit just before 4:30 a.m.
The U.S. president, who is in the midst of a re-election campaign, touted the Navy SEAL raid that killed bin Laden a year ago Wednesday, noting that the operation was launched from a base in Afghanistan.
He also said that "the tide has turned" over the last three years.
"We broke the Taliban's momentum. We've built strong Afghan security forces. We devastated al-Qaida's leadership, taking out over 20 of their top 30 leaders," he said.
But the violence that erupted about 90 minutes after his departure was a stark reminder of the difficult task still ahead for Afghan troops as they work to secure their country after U.S. and other foreign troops end their combat mission following nearly a decade at war.
The deal signed with Karzai does not commit the United States to any specific troop presence or spending. But it does allow the U.S. to potentially keep troops in Afghanistan through 2024 for two specific purposes: continued training of Afghan forces and targeted operations against al-Qaida.
The United States also promises to seek money from Congress every year to support Afghanistan.
The attack began with a suicide car bomb near the gate of the privately guarded compound, which sits off Jalalabad road — one of the main thoroughfares out of the city, Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqi said.
Kabul Deputy Police Chief Daoud Amin said those killed in the blast included four people in a station wagon that was driving past the area, a passer-by and a Nepalese security guard. He didn't have the identity of the seventh person killed. The Interior Ministry said 17 other people were wounded, most Afghan children on their way to school.
A local witness said a separate group of attackers disguised in burqas — the head-to-toe robes worn by conservative Afghan women — then tried to storm the compound.
"A vehicle stopped here and six people wearing burqas entered the alley carrying black bags in their hands. When they entered the alley, there was an explosion," said Abdul Manan.
Explosions and gunfire shook the city for hours as Afghan soldiers rushed to the scene and battled the attackers.
A Western official who had been briefed on the assault said the attackers had breached the perimeter defense, around the compound's parking areas, but had not gotten past a secondary security gate that protects the actual living areas. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.
The area appeared to have calmed down by about 10 a.m. NATO said all the attackers had been killed. It did not give a number, but the Taliban said it had deployed four fighters as it claimed responsibility for the attack.