Attacks on Kabul
23 April, 2012
By Asif Haroon Raja
After the September 13, 2011 deadly attacks in Kabul by the Taliban the capital was once again under blazing fire of the Taliban on the afternoon of April 15. The Taliban managed to penetrate rings of security cordons around the city protected as high security zone and hit the heartland with impunity. Waves of well-coordinated attacks were launched on heavily fortified US, German, British and Japanese Embassy compounds at 2 pm on Sunday. ISAF HQ, US military complex, parliament building, a super market and a hotel were brought under intense fire. The attackers had chosen the noon time and holiday purposely to catch the security apparatus off guards. Forceful attempts were made on the parliament building where the session was in progress. President Karzai had to be whisked away to a safe place. The attackers among which there were several suicide bombers were laced with machine guns and rocket propelled grenades. They made good use of under construction multi-storey building located close to the selected targets to fire their weapons. Outside the capital, Logar, Paktia and Nangahar provinces were also targeted.
This kind of daring and coordinated attack had taken place last year on 13 September. The US Embassy, NATO HQ and Afghan National Directorate were assaulted by five militants from a close by under construction building, which paralyzed the city. The stunned NATO and Afghan security forces were clueless how to deal with the explosive situation. The siege continued for 19 hours after which the attackers escaped unscathed. Earlier on in the same month, a NATO outpost in Wardak was hit by a truck bomber injuring over 70 US soldiers. In exasperation, the US blamed Haqqani network (HN) for Kabul's attack and former CJSC Admiral Mike Mullen declared HN as the veritable arm of ISI. Karzai regime joined the band wagon of Pakistan bashers claiming that HN attackers had come from North Waziristan (NW).
Comparing the two events, the recent one was broader-based since the attackers were in greater numbers and span of targets spilled over to three neighboring provinces. However, this time the response of Afghan security forces was much better, both in terms of swiftness and fight back. It was essentially because of timely and effective response action that the attackers couldn't do as much damage as they could have, and the fight was over in 18 hours. Among the 51 dead in the contest, 19 were attackers, mostly wearing suicide jackets. 14 police persons and nine civilians received injuries.
Notwithstanding marked improvement in operational efficiency of ANA elite force, which delighted the US-NATO commanders, it must not be forgotten that the Taliban had not attacked to capture Kabul or any building, but to demonstrate their ability to strike at the most secured areas and also to register their protest against series of immoral acts by ISAF. Spate of night raids by the US Special Forces kill teams, burning of copies of Holy Quran at Bagram airbase, massacre of 17 men, women and children by lunatic Sergeant Robert Bales, publication of videos showing US soldiers urinating over the corpses of Taliban and disgusting photographs published by LA Times showing US soldiers posing near mangled bodies of insurgents had welled up resentment and anger of all Afghans irrespective of their ethnic diversities or internal animosities. It was foreseen that a violent backlash would occur sooner than later. These attacks had also become necessary for the Talban because of propaganda spread by ISAF that the Taliban movement had been considerably weakened and that they would not be in a position to mount the Spring Offensive.
Making an appraisal of the tactics employed by the Taliban, it will be noted that they slow down their attacks during winter months and get activated in spring season and continue attacking till September/October. Hence, contrary to optimistic predictions, the Taliban heralded the spring offensive on 15 April with a big bang. This was indeed the biggest assault ever launched on the capital city since the onset of war on terror in October 2001. There is therefore no reason for the NATO to get complacent that the ANA has come of age and will be able to confront the Taliban challenge in future as well. The 18 hours intense battle was fought within the overly fortified diplomatic enclave infested with Afghan and NATO security troops fully backed by intelligence cover. The Taliban were able to hold their positions despite sustained assaults from elite troops for 18 hours. It was a clear-cut indication that far from what was being propagated that the Taliban are a spent force, they have proven that they are adept in guerrilla warfare and retain the capability, expertise and initiative to strike high-profile targets at the time of their choosing. It is not difficult to judge that the outcome of this battle would have been quite different if the ANA had to single-handed face the onslaught.
Instead of taking stock of the continuously deteriorating security situation at a time when drawdown has started and efforts to forge a political settlement are on, and above all Pak-US relations are fractious, the US once again resorted to its old habit of blame game. It should have been a matter of serious concern for the ISAF as to how the elaborate system of intelligence and security apparatus was successfully breached and the intended targets hit with impunity. Karzai is right in accusing that it was an Afghan-NATO intelligence failure, although, surprisingly the US Defence Department do not share Karzai's assessment, asserting such things occur in a war zone. The attacks will give added reasons to the US to justify retaining military bases beyond 2014.
The US Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker put the entire blame of Kabul's attack on Miramshah based HN. He claimed that attacks were planned in NW. Pentagon hurled similar accusations. Hillary Clinton urged Islamabad to squeeze the HN, implying that much sought offensive must be launched in NW. These accusations are a prelude to justify continuation of drone strikes with greater vigor. These tactics are being repeated to build pressure on Pakistan and put it on the defensive during the forthcoming crucial talks between US-Pak officials in which two burning issues of drones and NATO supplies would be discussed. Both issues are of vital concern to Washington since drone has been declared as a choice weapon and hailed as a success. Supplies are in suspension since the ugly incident of Salala on 26 November. Although the US has made alternative supply arrangements through northern routes to cater for defence and food needs of 130,000 troops, however, to give an idea of expenses and time taken, it costs $17500 per container and takes two months to reach Afghanistan.
It is therefore quite natural for the US to seek early reopening of supply routes through Pakistan which are extremely cheap and speedy. Pakistan has made the resumption of supplies conditional to stoppage of drone war. The public is not in favor of reopening supplies under any circumstances, while the US is not prepared to cease drone war since it is convinced that drones have played a key role in degrading al-Qaeda and its allies based in FATA. Our government is caught between the devil and deep sea. On one side is the overbearing USA exerting relentless pressure and on the other side is the public pressure. The US too is caught up in the whirlpool of multiple pressures. Taliban pressure, home pressure, allies pressure, defence expenditure pressure, Pentagon-political administration conflicting perceptions pressure have made decision making ability of Obama administration fuzzy. It is so utterly confused that it can think of nothing else except to blame Pakistan for its failures.
The writer is a retired Brig and a defence analyst.