McChrystal's plan takes a Taliban hit
By Abubakar Siddique
Kabul has cautiously returned to its everyday hustle and bustle, a day after a
Taliban attack that rocked the city center and brought the harsh realities of
war perilously close to the presidential palace and key ministry buildings.
But the brazen attack on January 18, in which just seven Taliban militants
managed to detonate suicide bombs that destroyed a shopping center and wage a
lengthy gun battle with Afghan forces, has raised serious questions about the
state of security even in areas thought to be relatively secure.
Jamal Nasir described the concerns of his fellow Kabul residents in an
interview with Reuters. "Yesterday's situation was a terrifying situation in
Kabul. All people were wondering what to
do," he says. "It was a situation out of our control, one of my relatives
decided to leave the country after yesterday's incident."
Threat to McChrystal's plan
The attack - which left three Afghan soldiers and two civilians dead and
another 70 people wounded - also exhibited the Taliban's ability to strike at
the heart of a key US strategy being launched by US and North Atlantic Treaty
Organization (NATO) commander, General Stanley McChrystal. The plan focuses on
securing urban areas, with the intention of turning the Afghan public against
the Taliban while raising Afghans' confidence in the ability of their own
forces to protect them.
The eventual deployment of 40,000 fresh US and NATO troops in populated areas
of the remote southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, as well as eastern
provinces along the Pakistan border, is a key component of McChrystal's plan.
With Kabul's security handed over to Afghan troops, the capital has essentially
become a litmus test for the country's own forces.
Haroon Mir, who heads the Afghanistan Policy and Research Center, tells Reuters
that there are many lessons - many of them positive - to take from the violence
seen in central Kabul on January 18.
"If these [attackers] are able to pass these checkpoints with their guns and
with their ammunition and with their explosives, it means that they are still
able to bribe some of the police forces and there are still some weaknesses in
the Afghan government," he said.
But Mir suggests that "the most important thing was that this could have turned
very bad. This could have turned into hijacking of people, buildings, and more
killing of people. But we are fortunate that the Afghan security forces were
able to neutralize and kill these seven suicide bombers."
"This is a big achievement and big accomplishment," he added.
All seven Taliban attackers were killed by Afghan security forces or blew
themselves up as they detonated their explosive vests. The attacks left the
charred remains of a major shopping center, where several holed-up attackers
fought security forces for hours.
Thomas Ruttig, a former United Nations and European diplomat in Afghanistan,
still keeps a close eye on the country's political and security situation. He
tells RFE/RL that the Taliban sought to show that they can "attack anywhere at
any time", but downplays the effect on McChrystal's plan to protect key
"It undermines [McChrystal's plan], but only to an extent," he says. "Because
these Taliban operations, I think, are not designed to take over population
centers. They create havoc, they kill people, and damage properties and show
that there is a lot of insecurity. But protecting population centers also means
to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Taliban, and I think we are
Fighting versus reconciliation
Ruttig does suggest, however, that the mission handed to the 40,000 troops who
will join the 100,000 already on the ground in Afghanistan might be misguided.
This [surge] is trying to hunt insurgents - insurgents which are not ready to
reconcile, while they hit in the back of the surge, so to say," he says.
Talking to journalists after the January 18 attack, Amrullah Salih, the head of
Afghan intelligence, pointed a finger at the Taliban network headed by
anti-Soviet jihad-era commander, Jalauddin Jalaluddin Haqqani, and his son,
Sirajuddin Haqqani, whom the Afghans see as operating out of sanctuaries in
Salih said the attacks should not be viewed as victory for the enemy.
"Today's attack was in no way a success for the enemy," he claimed. "They
cannot claim credit for entering a shopping mall and just blindly shooting at
the civilians. That will further strengthen the will and determination of our
people to know what they are and that will rally more support for the Afghan
Abdul Wahid Taqat, a former communist-era Afghan intelligence official, agrees.
He tells RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that the Afghanistan government and
the international forces backing it needs to be more innovative while
confronting the Taliban.
He cites the successes of the Moscow-backed regime of president Mohammad
Najibullah, which outlived the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and
survived for nearly three years after the withdrawal of the Red Army in 1989.
"They should consult our former intelligence colleagues about guerrilla
warfare," he says. "They should also form guerrilla bands because only
guerrilla tactics, intelligence maneuvers and accurate intelligence information
can protect in a guerrilla warfare."
Ruttig suggests that to move forward in Afghanistan, Western and Afghan leaders
will have to rethink the counter-insurgency doctrine as it is being applied on
ground in the country.
"In think the only way - which will be very hard and difficult and sometimes
very painful way - is to try to do a political accommodation with the
insurgents to lower the level of the violence and establish peace in the long
term," he says.