Czech diplomat, guards, come under fire in Afghanistan

Photo: CTK

Just weeks after the opening of a Czech Embassy in the Afghan capital Kabul, Czech staff have been involved in a serious violent incident. When a car carrying the country's most senior diplomat in Kabul came under fire, Czech personnel had no option but to retaliate. The dramatic incident left two Czechs injured and three rebels dead.

Recently named charge d'affaires Filip Velach was not hurt in the incident but there's little doubt it was deadly. On Tuesday, the diplomat and Czech bodyguards from the country's rapid response police unit that operates at the newly-opened Czech Embassy in Kabul, were travelling around 100 kilometres south of the Afghan capital when a taxi sped ahead and cut them off. Five assailants with automatic weapons jumped out and opened fire. Zuzana Opletalova is a spokeswoman for the Czech Foreign Ministry:

"The five opened fire and the Czechs turned their car around to escape. But they were followed and their tires were shot out. Making their way to the nearest village, the Czechs used their vehicle to block the road and returned fire when their assailants rounded the bend. A shoot-out ensued with the rebels reaching for grenades and a machine gun, forcing the Czechs to abandon their vehicle, which was armoured only against lighter-grade weapons. The Czechs took refuge in a nearby building where they barricaded themselves and were able to call for help."

Photo: CTK
Backup support involved a fighter jet overhead and eventually fighter helicopters from the NATO-led international force, as well as American units and Afghan security forces. The Czech charge d'affaires and his compatriots were then eventually taken by convoy to an American base. As for the Czechs, the Foreign Ministry's Zuzana Opletalova said both of the rapid-response bodyguards had suffered some injuries:

"The two suffered light injuries - one of them to his leg, the other to his eye and ear - but both are expected to recover fully. The rapid-response team, meanwhile, is investigating who attacked the diplomatic vehicle - and why. For now I don't want to speculate."

Tuesday's incident was the most serious involving a Czech diplomat, although Czech diplomatic vehicles, for example, have also been targeted in Iraq. In Afghanistan on Tuesday the Czechs survived and three of the five attackers were themselves shot dead. Still it is clear conditions in Afghanistan remain (and some would say are growing) more unstable. It is simply not possible to rule out potential attacks:

"Unfortunately that's how the situation is in Afghanistan and we have to expect such situations even though we try to limit the risk. Our rapid-response force operates both in Kabul and Baghdad, Iraq, two high-risk areas and members of the force try and communicate as much as possible with locals to try and learn about possible danger. But unfortunately, as we saw yesterday, not everything can be predicted in advance."