Thursday, April 19, 2012

Afghanistan: Afghan Forces Criticised After Kabul Battles

This article originally appeared in the Institute for War and Peace Reporting,

Afghan Forces Criticised After Kabul Battles

Series of coordinated strikes suggests national security forces unable to preempt insurgent attacks

Kabul residents say they have little faith in the ability of the Afghan security services to protect them after dramatic attacks hit the city this week.

A number of key locations in the capital were targeted, with dozens of militants firing on the Afghan parliament, the national army academy and the Sherpur district, home to senior government officials and diplomats.

Foreign embassies also came under fire in the onslaught,which began at noon on April 15 and was only brought to a halt the following morning.

Hafizollah lives with his sister and nephew in one of the apartment blocks used by the insurgents, it faces parliament and parts of its are still under construction. He told IWPR how the fighting began as he was nearing home.

“I saw my sister and nephew jump out of the second-floor window, screaming,” he said. “My sister had taken my little nephew’s hand, hanging him out of the window. Although policemen caught my nephew, my sister jumped and was injured. I took her to hospital.”

Hafizollah said that while the security forces performed well during the incident, they had failed to anticipate trouble.

“The government always acts after an attack takes place, and in my opinion that’s a failure,” he said. “The security forces wake up for a few days after an incident happens, but then they go back to sleep again until the next one.”

Hajji Aman, president of the Habib Wasim company, which has a ground-floor office in the same building, said his premises sustained considerable damage in the firefight, but at least all his colleagues were safe.

There were also attacks in Logar, Nangarhar and Paktia provinces. According to the Afghan interior ministry, 47 people died, 36 of them the insurgents who carried out the attack. Three civilians and eight policemen were killed. Of the 65 people injured, 25 were civilians.

Ehsan, a Kabul shopkeeper, said it was obvious that the Afghan security and intelligence forces were weak and incapable of ensure the safety of citizens, and that they could not be trusted.

“Although the armed opposition have used buildings under construction in Kabul several times recently [to launch attacks], the government has learned no lessons from the past and has failed to place such buildings under surveillance,” he said. “That’s obvious negligence on the part of the security forces.”

Amanullah, a taxi driver, argued that the insurgents had networks of people within government which helped them infiltrate the capital.

“It isn’t a simple matter to bring dozens of suicide attackers into the city along with tons of light and heavy weapons, and then deploy them in different parts of the city,” he said.

The attack, among the most dramatic in the capital since the Taleban regime was toppled in 2001, has further called into question the Afghan security forces’ ability to defend the country once international troops withdraw in 2014.

The Taleban claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying they was part of their long-promised spring offensive, and also describing them as retribution for the recent killing of civilians by an American soldier in Kandahar and the burning of Korans at the Bagram airbase.

Defence analyst Atiqullah Amarkhel said, however, that the attacks were probably an attempt to counter claims that the insurgents faced imminent defeat.

“John Allen [commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan] said at a Kabul news conference a while ago that 2012 would be a destiny-deciding year for the people of Afghanistan because they would eliminate the armed opposition forces,” he said. “The Taleban therefore wanted to demonstrate their strength and their ability to offer resistance at any time and at any location.

“In my opinion, this is a success for the Taleban and a failure for the security forces. The Taleban were able to show their strength across all these provinces in a coordinated manner, while the government forces didn’t have a clue about their whereabouts or capacity. The security forces fought against them but that was out of helplessness, because it was their duty to do so.”

Political analyst Fazel Rahman Oria praised the response of the Afghan security forces, and accused Pakistan of being the hidden hand behind the operation.

“Pakistan has been kept out of Afghan affairs recently,” he said. “The Americans have been paying less attention to Pakistan’s demands, so it decided to exert pressure on the Americans and on the Afghan government by conducting this operation, in order to show that peace in Afghanistan is impossible unless Pakistan is involved.

Officials including Interior Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi have blamed the attacks on the “Haqqani network”, a Taleban ally which is believed to have the backing of elements within the Pakistani establishment.

But Oria placed some blame on the Afghan government too, arguing that it had failed to win the battle for hearts and minds.

“Our government doesn’t have a strong intelligence operation, nor has it made an effort to win over public opinion,” he said. “So people are angry with the government, and help the insurgents for that reason. The government has failed to attract support from its people.”

Mina Habib is an IWPR-trained reporter in Kabul.