Kabul Attacks Raise Big Security Questions

Insurgents should never have been able to penetrate Afghan capital’s defences in the first place.

Kabul Attacks Raise Big Security Questions

Insurgents should never have been able to penetrate Afghan capital’s defences in the first place.

What is the atmosphere like today?

Things are calm now, but yesterday the entire city was on lockdown. People were calling friends and family to check whether everyone was OK. Embassies were shut, the university was closed, and NGO staff were kept inside their offices. A friend who was at the Polish embassy called me at nine in the evening yesterday to say they were being confined to the kitchen there. He was frightened that if the terrorists didn’t kill him, the police might shoot him, thinking he was an insurgent.

It was only at around nine or ten this morning that the roads were finally reopened and people were able to go to school or their workplace. Other attacks around the country have also been brought to an end.

What do these coordinated strikes say about security in Afghanistan? Have any lessons been learnt from other attacks like the ones in Kabul last September?

Some parliamentarians were talking on the news this morning about how very proud they were of the Afghan security forces and what a great job they had done. I too am proud of the bravery our troops showed, but I am still very worried about the wider capacity of our forces. They should have stopped these attacks before they ever began.

In key locations in Kabul, near diplomatic missions and the centre of political power, the insurgents showed once again that they could do whatever they wanted. They even attacked the presidential palace. That’s a very worrying sign.

The insurgents were very well equipped, armed and supplied, and had clearly been working on these attacks for a long time.

It’s a failure of intelligence and it shows the weakness of the Afghan security forces compared with the strength of the insurgents, who aimed to sow terror and disrupt security, and succeeded in doing so.

The Taleban had warned repeatedly that they were planning to launch a spring offensive, as they have done for ten years now.

In many incidents of this kind, the terrorists have taken over building sites from where they attacked their targets. For example, they used a building under construction facing the Afghan parliament as a base. A lot of money has been spent on providing security for parliament, so why was an empty building a few metres away not noticed?

Another worrying issue is lack of coordination among the different Afghan agencies, and the fact that the insurgents must have their own people inside the security forces.

United States ambassador Ryan Crocker said on April 16 that he believed theHaqqani network” was behind these latest attacks. Does that seem likely?

I too think it likely that the Haqqani network was behind the attacks, and that it’s capable of this kind of well-coordinated strike with the help of regional intelligence agencies. In Jalalabad, one terrorist who was arrested told police he’d been trained in Pakistan and was part of the Haqqani network.

But to Afghans, that doesn’t really matter. What’s important at the end of the day is the capacity of the Afghan security forces, and their ability to prevent this kind of attack. It makes us ask what will happen after 2014 when the international forces leave. That date has now been fixed, and the international forces, having suffered heavy losses both financially and in terms of casualties, cannot afford to remain here. A lot of Afghan businessmen are already leaving, taking their work to Dubai and moving their families out of the country. They are afraid not just of the insurgents, but of another civil war breaking out.

What is the likely effect of this kind of dramatic attack on the peace talks with insurgent groups? 

Afghans want negotiations, but they say their government now functions like an NGO and is only interested in projects for which it can attract foreign funding. For instance, Kabul has received millions of dollars for the High Peace Council, yet it is symbolic and has very little effect.

The Taleban want to talk to the Americans directly, arguing that the Kabul government is dominated by their old enemies and in any case is unable to act independently.

Meanwhile, anti-government forces are keen to demonstrate their strength to the foreign and Afghan forces. They calculate that this will give them a stronger hand in negotiations. Then again, the insurgents are not united – they carry out attacks while displaying a willingness to talk.

The Taleban claim responsibility for almost all attacks, although I’m certain that some are carried out by smaller elements within that umbrella grouping.

I think this is going to affect popular support for the peace talks. Ordinary Afghans just want an end to attacks, while at the same time recognising that it makes sense to negotiate rather than lose whatever gains have been made in the last decade. They argue that if former warlords hold prominent positions in government, then why not the Taleban? People see both as equally criminal. 

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