The attack launched by six Taliban militants in Kabul this week on 13 September sends many strategic signals to the discerning given that it included the high security zone with the US Embassy and Headquarters of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) within its area of influence. That there were no casualties of foreign forces was evidence enough of the state of high preparedness while the gamely fight given by Afghan police with many sacrifices also indicated that they are very much rising to such episodic crisis. The Taliban too has reason to declare victory given that rebels succeeded in penetrating the high security zone which is said to be well protected and has intelligence as well as a security ring around it.
The Taliban assault did come as a surprise to many; former commander in chief and now CIA Director David Petraeus however indicated that rebels are able to periodically carry out spectacular attacks despite which Kabul is under full control of Afghan security forces. The performance of the security forces did substantiate Petraeus’ statement. This assertion was important as confidence of the international community of Afghan security forces and particularly their integrity in keeping peace in the country had to be restored after a number of strikes.
While the Kabul attack has been attributed to the Haqqani group which is closely linked to Pakistan’s ISI this could be a gambit by the rebel faction to keep up pressure on the government as well as other factions such as Mullah Omar and Hezb E Islami who have had a series of rounds with Western negotiators. There are reports of one round of talks with the Haqqani group, thus there would be a reason to believe that it may also want to claim stakes in negotiations or influence the internal power structure.
Afghan and US security managers out right blame on the Haqqani group based in Pakistan for the attack should not obfuscate other critical issues. In externalising insurgency support at times there is a tendency to avoid internal accountability which would have to be avoided in Afghanistan. There is no doubt that the group has capability and motivation to launch attacks in Kabul and Wardak, two most recent incidents of violence, but the involvement of elements of Afghan security forces in supporting the Haqqani group cannot be lost sight of. The ability to get a large number of suicide operatives with explosives and heavy guns indicates some degree of penetration of Afghan forces apart from being a massive intelligence failure, thus is it a case of some in the security set up assisting the guerrillas would be worth investigating?
To what extent there is penetration of Afghan security forces will have to be impartially examined for without support it would not be feasible for Haqqanis or any other Pakistan based group to launch attacks deep inside Kabul. This has to be accepted by Afghan and US security leadership and appropriate corrective action taken.
The attack is also a major signal to security establishment that despite having completed process of transfer of security in the Afghan capital there are many loopholes that can be exploited. These would have to be identified jointly by Afghan security forces and ISAF and filled up for the Taliban and its cohorts have enough rebels to launch further attacks in Kabul and other vulnerable areas particularly where security transfer has taken place.
The performance of Afghan security forces and particularly the police demonstrated in the recent attacks in the capital Kabul and other areas has been commendable. They have been able to tackle the challenge of suicide bombers effectively by engaging them proactively and defeating all attempts to hold out, take hostages and create a siege like situation. As indicated it is intelligence mechanism of the police that is lacking and not the ability to overcome attackers including suicide bombers once an assault has been launched. Thus the Interior minister was all praise for the police and the accolades are well deserved. The specialized elements in the Police are particularly praise worthy as they have not hesitated in sacrificing their own lives to overcome the attackers in many incidents in the past.
The attacks essentially indicate up-gradation of capability of indigenous security forces which has to be sustained in the days and months ahead as more provinces and Afghan cities are transferred even as Taliban will be expected to continue their attempts to disrupt the process. There is no doubt a tough route ahead in Afghanistan but there is no reason to lose heart for the determination displayed by Afghan security forces will sustain the fight. This possibly was the biggest message from the Kabul attack of 13 September.