British Council's work in Kabul continues after attack

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Media captionThe first footage from inside the remains of the British Council compound in Kabul

Salvation came in the form of a paper napkin, slipped under the reinforced door of a safe-room.

Written on it was a code word, "Concorde"; it let the British Council staff inside know that their rescuers, Afghan commandos and New Zealand Special Forces, were on the other side of the door.

They had been in the safe room for five hours. Just after dawn, at least six Taliban attackers had blown their way inside the compound in Kabul.

They took up positions throughout the buildings - heavily armed, they came for a long fight. They lobbed grenades down the stairs in an attempt to blow their way inside the panic room, but the door held.

The room itself is more of a corridor: you have to stoop to make your way inside. Its walls are blackened from the fire that broke out after the escape.

Ruined building

Paul Smith, the director of the British Council in Afghanistan, says his staff went through hell that day.

"It was an absolute trauma, there's no denying that. For a few hours they were protected by wonderful, brave people, but it worked, they survived, and they are now being cared for," he said.

The Taliban said they choose a British target to mark the 92nd anniversary of Afghanistan's independence from Britain.

Two weeks on, the British Council building is a pockmarked and charred ruin.

Bulletproof windows hang shattered, destroyed by multiple explosions. After the British Council staff escaped, the attackers fought on for hours. Rocket-propelled grenades were fired, killing the last attackers and bringing the siege to an end.

On the back wall there is a round hole, now bricked up. This was the exit route for the British Council staff and their rescuers.

Some 12 people were killed that day, mostly members of the Afghan Police but also a member of the New Zealand special forces.

Education mission

The staff members caught in the attack are home in the UK. The British Council has restarted its work, on the other side of town from the original compound.

Image caption Paul Smith says the dangers involved in the British Council's work are worth the risk

In other countries around the world, the Council promotes British culture, but here in Afghanistan it is more involved in the nuts and bolts work of rebuilding the country's education system.

That means working to re-establish universities and teaching English.

The sacrifice, and the risks, are worth it, said Mr Smith.

"People died protecting us last week, that's uppermost in our mind. But the protection of the work going on here, and the people doing it, went well.

"Buildings are buildings; people are people. We just have to do this from a different venue, different way of working, but we will carry on doing it," he said.

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