16 September 2011

Postitive spin difficult for U.S. after latest Kabul attacks

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. —Attempts in the United States to put a favorable spin on the coordinated series of Taliban attacks that killed at least 15 Afghans in Kabul city earlier this week were probably under way before the last insurgent’s spent shell casing had cooled.

Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, on Wednesday said the multi-pronged attack, which was most likely carried out by the Haqqani network, a Taliban affiliated militia, was “not really a very big deal.” The U.S. embassy was attacked, but he pointed out that its security perimeter was not breached and no personnel were killed. “If that's the best they can do, you know, I think it's actually a statement of their weakness.”

Crocker’s comments were intended for the ears, hearts and minds of the American public, not ordinary Afghans who endured almost 20 hours of gunfights and rockets attacks throughout the capital, including the heavily fortified “ring of steel,” where many embassies and Afghan ministries are located.

The same day a Brookings Institute fellow took the U.S. news media to task for failing to point out the valor of the Afghan security forces, which have demonstrated greater capability in recent months, or the sheer difficulty of preventing small weapons from being transported into the city. “The U.S. media does have tendencies to reach a certain level of malaise about the wars — and a certain distrust of government. This can make some collectively tend toward a more negative bent than the facts warrant,” wrote Michael O’Hanlon. Again his comments were meant for the American public, which is understandably reluctant to accept the news that insurgency is gaining ground a decade after U.S. intervention and with current expenditures running about $10 billion per month.

Of course, the hearts and minds that most concern the Taliban do not belong to the American public. The Taliban strategy, in part, is to convince ordinary Afghans that its war of resistance cannot be defeated by the combined efforts of the world’s military colossus and the puppet regime of Pres. Hamid Karzai. They have provided evidence all summer long, attacking the plush Intercontinental Hotel, assassinating key government leaders, including the president’s half-brother; taking down a NATO helicopter loaded with troops, and launching on assault on the British Council.

Since the start of the year, "the attacks in Kabul have become more intense, lasted longer, demonstrated better intelligence and tactics on the part of the insurgency, and struck ever more supposedly secure targets," explained Fabrizio Foschini, an Afghanistan Analysts Network researcher.

Afghans saw the Taliban swiftly toppled in late 2001 by U.S.-led western military forces and so diminished that by 2005 many believed the insurgency was effectively dead. However, that storyline reversed field in 2006 when the Taliban, after regrouping with al-Qaeda and other allies in frontier Pakistan, returned to Afghanistan where they have since made steady gains, even in the face of the heavily ballyhooed U.S. “surge” engineered by Gen. David Petraeus, now head of the CIA. And today I suspect there are few Afghans who would agree with Crocker that this week’s attacks are any indication of the Taliban’s “weakness.”

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