What has been characterized as a coordinated attack on the US, UK, German, and Russian embassies in Kabul and ISAF headquarters, as well as several government offices including an attack on the parliament building, has mostly ground to a halt with little effective success by the attackers. The Taliban were quick to claim responsibility for the attacks, but it is apparent that the Haqqani network, which in varying degrees is closely allied with the Taliban, was actually the controlling force.
Most of the attackers have been killed or captured, but there is a resumption of fighting Monday morning (Kabul time) against some hold-outs in a building under construction near the parliament. US and ISAF spokesmen cite how well the Afghan forces are doing in repulsing the attacks.
Other reports are of attacks in the three provinces to the east and southeast up to the border of Pakistan, in the cities of Jalalabad, Gardez, and Pul-e-Alam, involving attacks on a NATO base, an airport, and police stations. Another report tells of an attack on a joint Greek/Turkish site on the eastern outskirts of Kabul near the Kabul Military Training Center. Both Greeks and Turks were responding with “heavy-calibre fire”. [Aside: I just bet they are. The fact that they are cooperating at all is a minor miracle, considering the extreme enmity with which they have held each other for centuries. They have slowly begun to cooperate under the NATO umbrella starting in 2000, and I have to believe – I’ve worked with both, separately, many years ago – that their response to this attack has to include an unstated competition of who can put more steel downrange. Both militaries have a well-deserved reputation of highly professional ruthlessness against their enemies.]
The attack began some hours after a crowd of “dozens” of militants attacked a prison in Pakistan during the early morning hours and freed nearly 400 inmates, including one who tried to assassinate former President Pervez Musharraf.
A number of commentators are quibbling with the precise structure of the group and the degree to which the Haqqani network is tied to the Taliban of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the Tehrik-i-Taliban in Pakistan, the Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (Hekmatyar), and other such groups. Considering the nature of tribal inter-warlord politics and struggles that have continued for centuries in Afghanistan, it is likely immaterial how coordinated and cooperative these groups are, other than to understand that they are united in their target of overthrowing the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan of Hamid Karzai (assuming he doesn’t strike a deal with them first) and NATO’s ISAF. If that occurs, then they can descend into the internecine squabbling of what to do afterward. Nevertheless, a high-level spokesman for the Haqqani insists that the group swears allegiance to al Qaeda and Mullah Omar.
Some sources state that there was evidence indicating an upcoming offensive (there are always those who say so after the fact; one can say the same thing about Pearl Harbor), and that the attacks mark the beginning of the spring offensive. One could just as easily say that the Taliban have announced the beginning of spring, considering the eventual inevitability of the attack. What was questioned by the NATO sources was the ability of the Taliban to launch an attack, but to use that as an excuse for the surprise at the simultaneity of the attacks, however ineffective militarily, is just splitting hairs. The Haqqani network was able to pull it off, but what did they really hope to gain, considering the uniform failure of the attacks? That would be publicity – the Taliban have done the same thing in the past, such as when we announce that we are shutting down an outpost. From a military point of view, it can seem useless to attack an outpost that will be soon abandoned (Why fight for something that is about to given to you?), but this has enabled the Taliban to show their audience that the ‘infidels’ abandoned their outposts after they were attacked. Disingenuous to be sure, but effective in their propaganda programme.
They can also take a page from the US response to the Tet Offensive in Viet Nam in 1968, despite the huge discrepancy in the number of troops committed. That was also a military disaster for the NVA and Viet Cong (in fact, the Viet Cong ceased to exist as an effective fighting force thereafter, even if the press ignored that fact), but it was an enormous propaganda victory for the North Vietnamese, affecting the anti-war press coverage in the US which accelerated with Nixon as president. I expect the Taliban and their allies, however reliable or otherwise, are hoping for the same effect, though they do not understand that now we have a Democrat president and the press is not responding in the same way.
There is also the famous Afghan tradition of harrowing and attacking foreign forces in the country as they extricate themselves, such as the British in 1842 and 1881, and the Soviets in 1988 and 1989. Expect no less this time.