Bomb­ing gives rise to an Afghan hero

Af­ter soldier acts, his por­trait goes up in Kabul and pres­i­dent gives him a house.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Ali M. Lat­ifi Lat­ifi is a spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent. Times staff writer Shashank Ben­gali in Mum­bai, In­dia, con­trib­uted to this re­port.

KABUL, Afghanistan — Isa Khan Lagh­mani, 28, had lit­tle time to col­lect him­self af­ter a sui­cide car bomb near the Afghan par­lia­ment build­ing caused the loud­est ex­plo­sion he had ever heard.

His ears ring­ing, the Afghan army staff sergeant did not re­al­ize for sev­eral sec­onds that the con­verted ship­ping con­tainer he and other sol­diers were stand­ing in was f illed with dust and smoke. Know­ing from ex­pe­ri­ence that in Afghanistan such a bomb­ing is of­ten fol­lowed by mil­i­tants on foot, the 10- year vet­eran grabbed his M- 16 as­sault rif le and stepped out­side, near the en­trance to the par­lia­ment com­plex.

When he saw a group of young mil­i­tants ap­proach­ing, he hes­i­tated for a sec­ond be­fore open­ing fire.

“I said bis­mil­lah

[ in the name of God], and then: Bang! Bang! Bang!” he said in an in­ter­view Tues­day, a day af­ter the bomb­ing. “I shot all six.”

The soldier’s bravado made him a na­tional sen­sa­tion in Afghanistan in the af­ter­math of the latest Tal­iban as­sault on the par­lia­ment, in which two civil­ians were killed and 40 wounded. The morn­ing- af­ter cov­er­age of him nar­rat­ing his ex­ploits to lo­cal media went vi­ral Mon­day evening, young men hung posters bear­ing his pic­ture around Kabul and Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani gave him a three- bed­room house.

With Afghan se­cu­rity forces suf­fer­ing heavy ca­su­al­ties in a strug­gle to con­tain a Tal­iban of­fen­sive and many crit­i­ciz­ing Ghani’s at­tempt to open peace talks with the in­sur­gents as vi­o­lence in­creases, Lagh­mani’s story made him an in­stant hero for a coun­try and a be­lea­guered gov­ern­ment that des­per­ately needed one.

The Afghan gov­ern­ment re­ceived more good news Tues­day with re­ports that se­cu­rity forces had re­taken con­trol of a key dis­trict at the doorstep of Kun­duz, cap­i­tal of the north­ern province with the same name. A Tal­iban ad­vance over the week­end had brought the mil­i­tants to within a few miles of the city, home to about 300,000 peo­ple.

Lagh­mani’s ver­sion of events could not be in­de­pen­dently con­firmed. On Tues­day, two mem­bers of the se­cu­rity forces sta­tioned at a road­block near the par­lia­ment com­pound said that at least one other soldier also fa­tally shot some of the six mil­i­tants but did not tell his story pub­licly out of fear of be­com­ing a Tal­iban tar­get.

The swag­ger­ing Lagh­mani had no such fear.

“I made my­self a tar­get for the Tal­iban 10 years ago” af­ter join­ing the army, he said. “Be­lieve me, I’ve done much worse to them in that time.”

The fa­ther of three, whose fam­ily lives in the eastern city of Jalal­abad, dreamed as a boy of join­ing the army and has served in the south­ern prov­inces of Kan­da­har, Zabol and Oruz­gan. When he ap­plied to be re­as­signed to Kabul, the Af- ghan cap­i­tal, six years ago, it was at the urg­ing of his fam­ily, who wor­ried about his safety, he said.

“I wanted to be where the ac­tion was and where I could re­ally be of ser­vice to the na­tion,” he said.

Af­ter the bomber blew him­self up at the en­trance to the par­lia­ment in west Kabul on Mon­day morn­ing, while law­mak­ers were in­side pre­par­ing to vote on Ghani’s nom­i­nee for de­fense min­is­ter, the six Tal­iban gun­men stepped out of a mini­van parked sev­eral hun­dred feet away.

In the time it took the gun­men to reach the road lead­ing to the par­lia­ment build­ing, they f ired off sev- eral rounds, at least one rocket and six or seven hand grenades, which were re­spon­si­ble for most of the ca­su­al­ties, wit­nesses said.

In­side the build­ing, Ab­dul Rauf Ibrahim, the par­lia­men­tary speaker, tried to main­tain or­der as law­mak­ers pan­icked at the sight of fall­ing dust and de­bris.

Once the six gun­men were within shoot­ing range, Lagh­mani said, it took him 10 or 15 min­utes to fire off the rounds that killed them.

“I only used 11⁄2 or two rounds of bul­lets, so the gov­ern­ment doesn’t think Isa Khan used a lot of bul­lets,” he said.

On Tues­day morn­ing, a 31- year- old man named Hairan was among a group of men hang­ing a poster bear­ing Lagh­mani’s im­age. Hairan, who has only one name and hails from Kun­duz, said Lagh­mani’s brav­ery sent a mes­sage to Tal­iban mili- tants, whom he de­scribed as in­fi­dels.

“We are do­ing it be­cause we want to show the Tal­iban that we are with the peo­ple of Afghanistan and those who pro­tect us, not them,” Hairan said.

Ghani tweeted of Lagh­mani: “I’m so proud of his re­solve and hero­ism.”

Lagh­mani said that he had seen a few of the posters but that he was just glad to have the chance to serve his coun­try.

“I thanked the pres­i­dent for the three- bed­room house, but I also told him, ‘ I hope you don’t ex­pect me to sit at home now,’ ” Lagh­mani said. “I am of this na­tion and I want to con­tinue to de­fend it.”

Ali M. Lat­ifi For The Times

I SA KHAN Lagh­mani says he re­acted quickly af­ter the par­lia­ment blast to fend off in­com­ing mil­i­tants, killing six. His bravado has made him a na­tional sen­sa­tion.

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