Heart attacked

The brazen military assault by the Taliban in the heart of Kabul’s diplomatic and military enclave is among the most audacious it has carried out in recent years. The US ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, has dismissed the attack as “not a very big deal.” He has described the 20-hour gun battle in Kabul as ‘harassment.’ His brave words notwithstanding, the latest attack is sure to have rattled Washington as much as it has shaken Kabul. Although Kabul has been attacked several times in recent months, the Taliban assault on Tuesday represents a new high in its war against president Hamid Karzai and the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

This is because it was able to strike not just in Kabul but at its very heart. Its targets included the US embassy. The militants were able to take over buildings close to western security installations, including Nato headquarters in Kabul. This is the first time the Taliban has gotten this close to the heart of the western military and intelligence presence in the Afghan capital. They were able to penetrate tight security to build up their arsenal in the multi-storeyed building that was their base. It would not have been possible for the Taliban to move heavy weaponry into the tightly guarded neighbourhood without the help of security personnel posted here.

It is three months since ISAF handed over the security of Kabul to Afghan forces. Many in the west are criticising the Afghan forces for failing to quickly overpower the insurgents. But the Afghan forces did a fine job in repelling the Taliban attack. However, the same cannot be said of the intelligence. Neither Afghan nor Nato intelligence issued warnings of the attack.

The Pakistan-backed Haqqani network —a Taliban affiliate—is believed to be behind the attack in Kabul. The attack seems aimed at signalling that ten years of Nato-led military operations have not dented its military power and that it is a force to reckon with. The warning it has sent out is that if it is not included in the peace talks, it has the capacity to dismantle the process. Indeed, the Karzai government must seek to make the process as inclusive as possible. Talking to moderates alone will not bring the war in Afghanistan to an end.

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