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Kabul Embassy Was Beefed Up after 1998 Bombings in Kenya and Tanzania

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan

The U.S. embassy in Kabul. Credit: U.S. Department of State

The U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, the headquarters of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Afghanistan, and other buildings in Kabul are under attack today by insurgents with guns and rocket-propelled grenades. No personnel from either the embassy or ISAF have been reported hurt, but four police officers and two civilians were killed in the fighting, according to the Associated Press.

The U.S. diplomatic post in Kabul has a long history of turbulence and violence, but the embassy now benefits from a number of security improvements implemented in the wake of the 1998 terrorist bombings at U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Those attacks, which killed more than 220 and wounded some 4,000 people, were a wake-up call to the U.S. Department of State, as detailed in my recent article on pre-9/11 security breaches and the technologies and protocols deployed in response:

The U.S. Department of State found that 85 percent of its diplomatic sites were vulnerable to attack and implemented a slew of stronger safety precautions. New regulations required embassies to be set back 30 meters from roadways, inside a perimeter fenced off with anti-climb walls and anti-ram barriers. The new rules also called for blast-resistant construction materials and windows. The U.S. had spent more than $5.9 billion building new embassies and upgrading existing facilities by 2007.

Kabul was one of several posts to receive a new compound rather than mere upgrades to existing facilities. In fact, the U.S. embassy in Kabul had long been closed when terrorists attacked in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam; the U.S. had shuttered it in 1989 amid fears of a security breakdown as the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan, and the embassy did not officially reopen until 2002. The Afghan capital has a history of diplomatic bloodshed: in 1979 Adolph Dubs, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, was kidnapped by militants and killed in an exchange of gunfire. And suicide bombings at the Indian embassy there in 2008 and 2009 killed approximately 75 people and wounded hundreds.

The State Department seems to have taken more seriously the realities of diplomatic work in Kabul. By 2006, when the new compound had been completed, a Government Accountability Office report counted its cost at $177.2 million, more than twice as much as any other new embassy.

About the Author: John Matson is an associate editor at Scientific American focusing on space, physics and mathematics. Follow on Twitter @jmtsn.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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