Afghanistan hit by wave of attacks in Taliban offensive

Mon, Apr 16, 2012, 01:00

IN A brazen demonstration of its ability to hit some of the best defended targets in Kabul, the Taliban yesterday mounted its largest co-ordinated attack in 11 years of resistance to Afghanistan’s post-2001 rulers.

Dozens of fighters launched gun, rocket and suicide attacks on embassies, Nato bases, parliament and government buildings in the capital, as well as Nato targets in three eastern provinces, in what a spokesman called a “spring offensive” to demonstrate its strength. Five hours later, as dusk fell, gun battles were still raging in Kabul. The British embassy was among the targets, but insurgents succeeded only in damaging a gate.

Two Afghan security force members and 17 militants were reportedly killed, according to the BBC. The Afghan interior ministry said a further 17 Afghan police officers and nine civilians were injured, the broadcaster added.

Nato forces quickly dismissed the attacks as “largely ineffective” and emphasised that it was Afghan army forces, not Nato units, that dealt with the onslaught. Afghan units had sustained “light casualties while killing or capturing many of the suicide attackers in a matter of hours”. Witnesses reported seeing some bodies in the street, but there was no official word on any deaths. The Taliban said that the attacks, which were two months in the planning, served to show the insurgency “can attack anywhere we want”.

At least seven sites across the heavily guarded city were targeted, raising worrying questions about the organisation’s continued potency despite intense US efforts to degrade them on the battlefield.

In the southwest of Kabul insurgents managed to climb a five-storey building site from where they fired on the Afghan parliament, the commerce ministry and the Russian embassy. Some members of parliament, which is full of battle-hardened former Mujahideen commanders who fought a guerrilla campaign against Soviet occupying forces in the 1980s, grabbed weapons and joined parliamentary guards to try to repel the attack.

Pamir Patang, chief of staff at the neighbouring commerce ministry, said that the military attache at the nearby Russian embassy had reported that Russian soldiers inside the compound returned fire on the multistory building site from which they were being attacked.

A high-profile Afghan MP, Wazhma Frogh, who was caught up in the attacks near the British embassy, gave a scathing verdict on the response of police: “I was nearly shot in the back . . . not by a terrorist but by the Afghan police who were just shooting at everything,” she said. “They had no idea where they were firing.” The attacks, she said, cast doubt on Nato’s transition plan, which aims to hand over full responsibility for security to the Afghan government by the end of 2014.

“This shows just how ridiculous the transition policy is. I’ve never seen a street battle before, but what I saw today was the fragility of these police officers.

But Gen John Allen, commander of the International Security Assistance Force, said he was “enormously proud” of the response mounted by Afghan security forces. “No one is underestimating the seriousness of the attacks, and we’ll work hard to determine the circumstances that led to today’s events.”

In the past such elaborate attacks on Kabul have been blamed on the Haqqani network, a group allied to the Taliban with an ability to mount complex operations. Even as the attacks continued, Afghan analysts blamed Pakistan’s military spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, which has been linked to previous Haqqani attacks.

Mr Patang said it was too early to say with any certainty whether the spy agency was to blame. “However, what we can say for sure is that so many simultaneous attacks in different places around the country can only be sponsored violence . . . supported by a professional intelligence agency.”

Pakistan’s foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar expressed her country’s “deep concern” at reports of the attacks. “Pakistan strongly condemns terrorism in all forms and has consistently encouraged dialogue to resolve issues in Afghanistan,” she said.

South of Kabul, in Logar province, suicide bombers managed to enter the offices of the provincial governor and the police chief.

In the east, two suicide bombers blew themselves up outside Jalalabad’s airport, wounding several.

And in Gardez, in the eastern province of Paktia, several gunmen attacked a police training centre.

Many Kabul residents have become remarkably desensitised to outbreaks of violence.

“All the internationals got up and left, but the Afghans just stayed to finish their meals,” said businessman Khaleeq Ahmad who was having lunch on the top floor restaurant of one Kabul’s most exclusive hotels when gunfire broke out all around the city.

– (Guardian service)