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Taliban attack Kabul – ideas running a little low this year…?

May 27, 2013

Summary: A standard Taliban attack into Kabul last Friday against a very civilian target attracted low levels of media attention and was quickly resolved with minimal casualties.  It suggests the Taliban are lacking ideas for their Spring offensive and are experiencing difficulty in penetrating Kabul’s security cordons and quick response forces.

Nothing to see here.  Oh, wait...

Nothing to see here. Oh, wait…

On Friday 24th May, the Taliban launched an attack into central Kabul, targeting a civilian organisation, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) compound.  A suicide bomb was detonated first.  Three IOM members were wounded, an Afghan policeman was killed with four wounded.  Five armed Gurkha guards from a private security company guarding the IOM compound were also wounded in the attack.  Five Taliban attackers died.  The attack began at approximately four o’clock local time and was finally concluded later that night.  The IOM is affiliated to the United Nations.  The Taliban claimed responsibility and said they had targeted a guesthouse for intelligence personnel, including Afghans and the CIA.

Analysis and Outlook

It is tempting to suggest firstly that the Taliban are finding it harder each year to penetrate into the security cordons of central Kabul and secondly that they are lacking a few key components for a successful attack: targets, imagination, resources and, perhaps most crucially, media attention.  Taliban tactics were predictable – small coordinated attack, initiated by suicide bomber.  Small group of dedicated and well-rehearsed fighters get into a building and have to be dug out slowly.

This operation was wrapped up relatively quickly – some Afghan security teams are getting a lot of practise and a lot of mentoring (one media report mentioned Norwegian army personnel taking part, which probably means special forces of some sort).  The attack that I experienced (from a very well-protected vantage point, I can assure you) against the ISAF HQ was the 13th September 2011 combined attack against the US Embassy and ISAF.  It kicked off in the late morning and was only officially concluded early the next morning.  Last Friday it was over seemingly in a quarter of that time.  The glare of publicity is getting shorter.

 

Danziger: "mystified"...

Danziger: “mystified”…

Speaking at a news conference in Kabul, the IOM’s Chief of Mission, Richard Danziger, also praised the Afghan National Police and Gurkhas security guards at the IOM compound, saying their actions prevented further deaths.

“I want to thank the Afghan National Police, without whom we would have had a far more serious incident,” Mr. Danziger said. “IOM has been working in Afghanistan since 1990 and I think people know the important work we do and we will not let this incident affect us.”

Mr. Danziger said his organization remains undeterred and would be back at work tomorrow.

“I’m absolutely mystified as to why we would have been the target of this attack,” he said. “It is clear that international staff were the primary targets. The extent of the damage is considerable and it is unlikely that we will move back there.”

As is frequently the case, the Taliban official response is interesting and confusing.  On the day itself they claimed to be attacking a military rest house intelligence target: “The main target was a guesthouse where foreigners, including members of the CIA who train members of the Afghan spy agency stay.”

This from their website the day after:

Taliban flagWhat is Mujahideen attack on most clandestine intelligence agency supposed to mean?

Saturday, 25 May 2013 03:21

The Islamic Emirate’s Mujahideen have continued launching attacks on the most secret and clandestine intelligence agency of the ISAF, the international terrorist forces, to put it bluntly, the US in the heart of Kabul city since the late afternoon hours of the day and are still ongoing.

The common citizens of Kabul city are not allowed to get close to this point as it is the most important and forbidden government location in Kabul city. The fact that Mujahideen have had it under attacks through much of the day has made it even more difficult for everyone to gain access to this location. Which is why the scale of attacks and the scope of casualties are not yet clear…

…It is apparent from the unverified and conflicting reports of Kabul regime that the Mujahideen attacks on the most clandestine and heavily-secured location of the foreign military forces has put both the internal and foreign officials in great panic and horror.

News media offers fake and conflicting reports on the Mujahideen operation and every news outlet’s statement contradicts the other…

The ISAF has yet to report on the operation. And what the ISAF has to report may really come as a surprise…

To put it simply to satisfy the readers curiosity it is to confirm that the Islamic Emirate’s Mujahideen have stormed the CIA’s most clandestine and sensitive facility, situated in a most forbidden location in Shar-e-Now, in the center of Kabul city which is home to most of foreign and internal intelligence employees…The US-run or sponsored media outlets released fake and unfounded reports that the martyrdom-seeking Mujahideen with explosives had been captured and their attacks foiled and that the Mujahid attacking Dr Abdullah had also been captured and suchlike propaganda.

Despite the extreme security measures and arrangements by the defense Ministry, the Howz-e-Char (a police station), the presence of police patrol, checkpoints, different security barriers, security cameras, state-of-the-art and computerized security system and so on, a few Martyrdom-seeking Mujahideen storm a most important location, the city’s most heavily-guarded facility with strategic importance and accomplish their mission. Does it not imply that Mujahideen in the terms of their military operations are superior, on the contrary, the internal forces, the puppets with supports from all foreign allied countries including US are militarily inferior with the lowest morale.

This is clearly majoring on the “we have fooled the high tech Westerners once again” angle.  The statement really does try to emphasize how strong and important the target was.  But for all their distrust and dislike of Western media, I suspect that by now the Taliban generally understand that, if they really have struck hard and hurt key people (US diplomats, Afghan peace negotiators, etc), it is normally all over the media within 24 hours.  It seems unlikely (putting it mildly) that they struck a genuine intelligence target and inflicted major casualties.  It also seems likely that the Taliban will by now understand this.  I am not quite sure what it means, but from a selection of several options:

  • Taliban intelligence is poor – they have mis-identified the target
  • Taliban planning is poor – they attacked the wrong place, or a site adjacent was the real intended target
  • Taliban strike capability is poor – It is harder to penetrate into genuine targets – better to hit one of the multitude of “soft” targets and dress it up as a legitimate, military, target

I would probably incline toward the latter option.  At the extreme risk of tempting fate, I might suggest that the Taliban will start to lose credibility amongst some key audiences and supporters if this is the best they can do for a Spring Offensive.  I wonder if and how the Taliban planners and strategists will recognise this?

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