February 26th, 2010
11:47 AM ET

Behind the scenes: A CNN reporter's wake-up call in Kabul

There's nothing more unpleasant than being awoken by a bomb.  At 6:35 a.m. on Friday morning, I jerked upright as a huge blast rattled the windows in my bedroom and sent chunks of plaster clattering to the floor.  As I looked around in sleepy confusion, not-too-distant gunfire echoed in the street outside.

Moments later, producer Steve Smith banged on my door and told me to join him and cameraman Simon Payne on the roof. Simon was already videotaping a plume of white smoke rising above the rooftops about a kilometer away.  Watch my video here

Our fixer, Matiullah Mati, was calling around to get details about what, at that point, was just a mysterious blast.  Information, however, was slow coming in.  The police would only confirm that a blast had taken place – as if we didn't already know that – and that smoke was rising from the scene.  Full story

Hardly enough information to illuminate our viewers with.

Realizing we would be better off going to the scene, we grabbed our flak jackets and equipment and drove in the direction of the blast.

The roads were already blocked by police, so we got out and walked.  It was cold and drizzly, the streets were empty. As we approached, we saw that many windows on shops and building had been blown out.  One block away from where the blast had occurred, we were stopped by police. But with gunfire going off every few minutes, we hesitated to go any further.

All the while Simon the cameraman had to stop every five minutes to vomit.

He must have gotten a bug overnight because his normally ruddy, Tasmanian complexion had turned to a sickly shade of something between gray and green.

I took the camera to allow him to attend to more pressing needs.

For well over an hour, Afghan police exchanged fire with unknown gunmen down the road.  Then we heard a loud blast, and a group of young men, some still in pajamas, ran toward us. One had blood splattered all over the legs of his pajamas. Shortly afterwards, a burly Afghan policeman followed, a baby girl in his arms, her forehead bleeding.

The blast, a police officer told us, was the result of a suicide bomber detonating his explosives.

By mid-afternoon, the area had been secured, and investigators – American, French and Afghan – began surveying the destruction and taking soil samples.

The Taliban – far more media-savvy than they were in 2001 when the U.S.-led coalition invaded Afghanistan – were quick to take calls and confirm their responsibility for the attack.

The death toll now stands at 17, with more than 30 injured. Many of the casualties were Indians working in Afghanistan, although a precise number is still not clear.

Outside one of the Park Residence guesthouses, where one of the suicide bombers had blown himself up, I met Assad Pervante, an Afghan-American from Denver, Colorado.  He told me had been sitting on the side of his bed when the car bomb went off.

"I could see our guards, the security guards, going on top of the roof and shooting," he told me.  "The whole place was filled with dust."

When he went outside to see what had happened, he saw a man dressed in an Afghan security uniform with an assault rifle running in his direction.  Suddenly one of the guesthouse workers rushed out a door into the street, and the gunman shot him dead at point-blank range.

Without a moment's hesitation, Assad recalled, he ran back inside, scrambled up a ladder and over a back wall.

Friday's attacks raise all sorts of questions.  Now that the pressure is on the Taliban in southern Afghanistan, will they start to focus their efforts on the capital? Is a campaign of urban attacks a way for the Taliban to reassert themselves after the recent high-profile arrests of its leaders by Pakistani authorities? Can Kabul be made secure enough to thwart Taliban attackers? Can the Afghan government and their coalition backers do that without alienating the population?

I can't answer any of these questions. But they'll probably keep me awake tonight, when I go back to the bedroom where I was so violently awakened this morning.

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