Today's long read.
Inside the September 13 Kabul US Embassy Attack: Newsmakers: GQ
Around an hour earlier, while Howell was at lunch, four miles to the east, on the outskirts of Kabul, a gray Toyota Town Ace van had threaded its way through the backstreets of Utkhel, a rough neighborhood, infamous for its thieves and petty criminals. American forces sometimes raid the area, searching for insurgents. The van's driver joined the flow of rusting taxis, cargo trucks, and shiny SUVs that were moving westward on the Jalalabad road toward the center of town. Next to the driver was a young male passenger, bearded and in local dress. In the back of the van were four passengers, at least three of whom were clad in powder blue burkas, the head-to-toe cloaks worn in public by traditional Afghan women. One of the burka-clad figures lay between the seats, as if ill or in labor.
The van's driver seemed to know his route well. As he headed west, approaching the diplomatic quarter, he deftly avoided the big intersections guarded by Afghan police checkpoints, cutting through the side streets of Microrayon, a neighborhood of apartment blocks built by the Soviet Union during its ill-fated engagement in the country. There were a couple of checkpoints that couldn't be avoided, but at each of them, the policemen, after a perfunctory glance at the passengers in back, waved the van through.
In Afghanistan's conservative culture, it would be a serious breach of social norms for a man to inspect too closely a woman who wasn't his relative, particularly a woman who'd modestly covered herself up with a burka. Women in burkas could therefore glide through checkpoints unseen. If on some premonition a police officer had commanded any one of the van's burka-clad passengers to lift up the veil, he would have gotten a nasty shock: All of them were bearded men.
Underneath their burkas, they were dressed in shalwar kameez, the traditional local garb of baggy trousers and knee-length tunics. In the van with them, they had olive green rucksacks stuffed with ammunition, grenades, juice packs, bandages, and energy bars. They carried Kalashnikov assault rifles, rocket-propelled-grenade launchers, and belt-fed machine guns.
Beneath the figure who lay between the seats was the massive tube of an eighty-two-millimeter recoilless rifle, a portable antitank weapon that could fire armor-piercing rounds at targets over a quarter mile away. The van itself was packed with explosives and rigged to a remote-controlled detonator.