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Monday, 16 April 2012

On its own, Kabul takes test


On its own, Kabul takes test

Kabul, April 15: Taliban suicide bombers and gunmen barraged the diplomatic quarter of the Afghan capital and Parliament for hours today and struck at least three eastern provinces as well in a complex attack designed to undermine confidence in Nato and Afghan military gains.
As night fell, there was still sporadic gunfire in the capital. The airport was closed to traffic, underscoring that although the suicide bombers and gunmen were few in number, they could hold buildings for hours, disrupt normal life and terrify residents.
A site near the palace of President Hamid Karzai, who has been moved to safety, was attacked. The Indian mission, 3-4km from the nearest scene of attack, was safe as were all Indians in Kabul, according to ambassador Gautam Mukhopadhyay.
The simultaneous attacks tested the Afghan military and police who responded in Kabul with minimal help from Nato other than back-up from French helicopters and the small number of mentors that are embedded with some Afghan security units, according to western officials.
No Nato troops were seen around the city, and by late afternoon, Afghan crisis response teams were in place in Parliament and in the streets near the foreign embassies, according to people who were in the area.
The government said 17 militants and one policeman were killed.
The choreography of the attacks, the focus on high-profile Afghan government and foreign targets and the use of multiple suicide bombers was similar to a number of previous strikes in which the Haqqani network, an offshoot of the Taliban that is headquartered in Pakistan's tribal areas, was found to be directly involved.
"This does have all the hallmarks of Haqqani on it," said Col. Daniel J.W. King, a Nato spokesperson. "If this is the best they can do to start their fighting season, then obviously the Afghan security forces and others are having a significant impact."
The Taliban described the extravagant onslaught as the opening of their spring offensive. "We just showed that we are here and we will launch and stage attacks whenever we want," said Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesperson.
In an interview on CNN, American ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, who was speaking from the locked-down American embassy, praised the Afghan security forces as having "acquitted themselves very, very well, very professionally".
He went on to say that attacks like this strengthened the case for Americans staying until the Afghans were fully ready to handle the situation on their own.
While the Taliban threat is real, it is often hard to measure. Sometimes it takes the shape it did on Sunday of periodic complex attacks on specific targets rather than a concerted effort to hold significant territory. In eastern Afghanistan, the Taliban still have real control of some areas.
NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE AND AGENCIES