Taliban-linked terrorists carried out a coordinated wave of dramatic attacks on high-profile targets across Afghanistan on Sunday ahead of a planned NATO-Afghan offensive. At the same time, Islamist terrorists broke into a jail in Pakistan,freeing nearly 400 prisoners, including 20 terrorists labeled as “very dangerous.” The sophistication of the attacks worries NATO and Afghan officials.
Seven attacks occurred simultaneously at about 1:45 PM. The fighting lasted for over 18 hours in Kabul and the capitals of Paktia, Logar and Nangarhar provinces. Several embassies, police stations, a NATO base, the Kabul Star Hotel, an airport and the parliament building all came under attack. The targets were chosen based on prominence instead of creating maximum casualties. The Islamist enemy’s goal was to demonstrate that no target is safe and to show off its ability to conduct complicated operations.
The attacks are also meant to discourage the Afghans and the American public. About 66% of Americans now oppose the war in Afghanistan and 70% believe that the Afghan population does not support the U.S. military presence. Only 22% believe the Afghans support American involvement.
One captured participant in the attacks admitted that he is part of the Haqqani network. Shortly before the attacks, the authorities arrested four members of the Haqqani network. The cell revealed that they were in the midst of carrying out a plan to kill one of Afghanistan’s vice presidents.
The alleged involvement of the Haqqani network points directly to Pakistani complicity. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, bluntly accuses the Pakistani ISI intelligence service of being behind sophisticated attacks in September. Fed up with Pakistan’s duplicity, he forcefully stated, “The Haqqani network acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency.” Outcry followed and the White House tried to soften his remarks. He wouldn’t allow it. “I phrased it the way I wanted it to be phrased,” Mullen said.
A Taliban spokesman named Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for his group and downplayed the role of the Haqqanis. He said that reports that the Haqqani network orchestrated the attacks are a part of “a baseless plot from the West, who wants to show that we are separate.” Indeed, the U.S. has been trying to lure the Taliban into a peace deal that would sever its ties to the Haqqani network and Al-Qaeda. Vice President Joe Biden even made the astonishing statement that the “Taliban is not our enemy, per se.”
Mujahid asserts that the Taliban meticulously planned the wave of attacks for two months without being foiled. He said that members even put together models of their targets so they could rehearse their attacks, secretly stored weapons and had help from agents within the Afghan security forces. He boasted that the Taliban’s planned spring offensive has not yet begun.
On the same day, 100-200 militants stormed a prison in Bannu, Pakistan and freed 384 prisoners. Among those released were 20 terrorists deemed “very dangerous,” including one who tried to kill former Pakistani President Musharraf. The circumstances surrounding the break-in strongly indicate that top Pakistani officials were involved. The fighting went on for two hours but no soldiers or police arrived. The huge group of armed militants was not stopped by the border guards at the tribal areas and passed police checkpoints and military installations on their way to the prison.
Sunday’s event did bring some good news. Although Afghan President Hamid Karzai admits there was an “intelligence failure” on the part of Afghanistan and NATO, the Afghan security forces responded quickly, efficiently, and mostly independently. They only received some support from NATO helicopters. Nearly 40 terrorists were killed versus 8 police officers. Only 5 civilians died. This is partially because the Taliban was not primarily targeting civilians, but the Afghans should be commended for avoiding significant casualties in a chaotic environment. In addition, a new study concludes that the Village Stability Operations that are helping local Afghans defend their communities are working.
The final U.S.-led offensive in Afghanistan is about to begin. NATO and Afghan forces will seek to secure the routes to Kabul from the south and the east and to stop infiltration through the Pakistani border. A focal point will be Ghazni Province. Its governor told the U.S., “If you secure Andar [district], you have secured Ghazni, and you have secured Afghanistan.”
There is not much time to accomplish these formidable tasks. The U.S. is withdrawing an additional 23,000 soldiers by the end of September, leaving behind 68,000. The Obama administration is considering further reductions by the end of 2012. All foreign combat forces are supposed to leave by the end of 2014. Luckily, Afghanistan expects its security forces to be 352,000-strong by 2013 and their skills are improving.
There are many obstacles facing Afghanistan as foreign forces depart. The Taliban’s strength is estimated at about 25,000 and the Haqqani network is at about 10,000 members. Most of these fighters are safe in Pakistan and this doesn’t even include groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba. We now know that Iran stirred up the unrest following the breaking of the story about terrorist-owned Korans being accidentally disposed of. President Karzai is corrupt and it is very possible he’ll cut a deal with the Taliban or another anti-American force. There are power struggles between warlords that could escalate if a power vacuum opens up.
The primary mission of the U.S., however, is to stop the Taliban and like-minded terrorists from obtaining a base from which to target the West. The upcoming spring offensive will be decisive in completing that mission.
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