The first blogger I saw reporting on today's attack and giving some background information about our Consulate facilities in Herat was Diplopundit (Suicide Bombers Target US Consulate Herat). The State Department didn't have its daily press briefing until early afternoon, at which time Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf put out the following statement:
While we are still gathering details, our understanding of the events at present is as follows: The attackers began by detonating a vehicle-borne IED in front of the U.S. Consulate, damaging the outer gate. Shortly thereafter, the attackers fired an RPG at the Consulate and detonated another VBIED in front of the Consulate compound. Consulate security neutralized several suicide bombers attempting to breach the compound. The Consulate’s front gate was damaged; however, the Consulate’s interior compound was not breached.
Our security measures here were effective. The attackers were neutralized, our internal perimeter was not breached, and no American lives were lost. We are grateful for the quick response of the Afghan and the ISAF security forces who secured the facility and kept our personnel safe. We thank the Governor of Herat and the Government of Afghanistan for their support and ongoing partnership. Diplomatic Security staff and contract security employees were equally a part of the response.
-- snip --
At this time, we understand that one local International Development Solutions – IDS – interpreter was killed at the Consulate. The latest information on the local guard force is that there were three casualties also, three people killed, with two third-country national guards hospitalized. Again, I would stress very strongly that these numbers are fluid. We’re still getting reports in from the field. And if I have anything to share on the number of attackers, I will certainly do so.
In other press reporting today, I saw there were seven attackers and that they used two sequential car bombs in an attempt to get inside the perimeter of the Consulate. Had that tactic succeeded, the surviving attackers, armed with rifles and bomb vests, could have entered the Consulate office building where they might have caused mass fatalities.
In the current jargon this sort of thing is called a "complex attack," and a spokesman at U.S. Embassy Kabul used just that phrase today. By whatever name, the tactics were identical to those used in 2010 against U.S. Consulate Peshawar, Pakistan, and in 2008 against U.S. Embassy Sana'a, Yemen. In both of those incidents, as in Herat today, the attackers failed to get inside our compound.
If you read into those earlier incidents, you'll see a common theme in all three attacks. They were defeated by the presence of an outer perimeter tripwire at which the attack had to be initiated, as well as an inner perimeter that was physically secure enough to resist beaching by explosives, and highly responsive local and U.S. security forces who engaged the attackers while they were delayed between the outer and inner perimeters.
The many news media photos I've been seeing all day tell the story.
|First checkpoint, U.S. Consulate Herat (Newswhip photo)|
U.S. Consulate Herat is approached by turning off a highway, at which point entering traffic encounters a drop bar barrier manned by our local guards.
|Red line at checkpoint, yellow line at compound gate (Google Earth)|
That first checkpoint is by the red arrow in the overhead photo above. The yellow arrow marks the vehicle gates at the Consulate's inner perimeter.
|Car bomb #1 detonated at the first checkpoint (AP photo)|
The attack began with a car bomb at the outer checkpoint. After that, the attackers could approach the inner compound's vehicle gates, but they were now under fire from U.S. forces inside the compound and Afghan forces outside.
|Car bomb #2 destroyed the compound gate (Reuters photo)|
The second car bomb evidently got close enough to severely damage the inner compound gates, but the attackers reportedly did not get inside the compound.
|Pre-attack inside view of compound gates (Qavi Engineers website photo)|
At some point after the attack began, U.S. military forces arrived by vehicle and by helicopter. That was an element we didn't have in Peshawar or Sana'a, and I'm sure it was crucial to securing the compound and evacuating the Consulate staff. However, by this time next year U.S. military forces will have been withdrawn from Afghanistan, and our diplomatic mission will then be entirely dependent on local police and military for armed response to any future attacks.
Reports have not been too clear, but the local guards who were killed or wounded today seem to be third-country nationals. There was also an Afghan interpreter and at least one Afghan policeman killed, as well. We owe them an enormous debt, and I can only presume that a memorial fund or other type of assistance will be organized for them.