Afghan officials and U.S. ally forces were prematurely praised for deterring the predicted “spring offensive” initiated annually by the Taliban, in a statement released by Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry on Sunday. The statement followed a three-day mission that captured, wounded, or killed some 100 opposition fighters. Less than two hours after the congratulatory claims were uttered, however, a well coordinated full-scale assault against Kabul and three other Afghan cities was launched in an unprecedented attack over the course of NATO’s 11-year presence in Afghanistan.
Despite the elevated number of defense forces surrounding the capital’s diplomatic district, known as the “ring of steel”, the attackers used rifles, grenades, and rockets to target government buildings including the parliament, foreign embassies and bases, and Kabul’s Aviation College. Separate from the capital, fighters targeted Jalalabad’s airport and police facilities in Gardez while insurgents concealed in women’s full body burqas initiated a series of attacks in three provinces.
One of several coordinated attacks during the Taliban’s “spring offensive”. (Photo: MSN News)
The offensive’s message rings clear: Withstanding its expulsion from power after the U.S. invasion in 2001, the Taliban and its terrorist web of allies remain resilient, resentful, and organized. However, the Taliban is not alone.
Pakistan’s Haqqani network, a terrorist organization described as the “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s Intelligence Agency, shares strong ties with al-Qaeda and Islamabad’s Taliban and has been linked to the weekend’s attacks in Gardez. Mobile phones and documents discovered by police show that contact was made between a remote area in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s side of the border — pinpointing the lawless region associated with the Haqqani network that has been labeled by President Obama as “the most dangerous place in the world”. Thwarted suicide bombers and militants were also arrested during Sunday’s assault and have since confessed their Haqqani network affiliation and plot to assassinate Afghan Vice President Karim Khalili, one of the country’s two vice presidents.
While the “spring offensive” lacked in territorial gain, it critically undermined the government. The coordinated attacks also foreshadow a Kabul ripe with power vacuum opportunities that would invite the revival of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, if the United States and NATO’s planned 2014 withdrawal is prematurely employed. With details regarding the final transition of security control to Afghan forces scheduled to be discussed in a NATO summit meeting next month, it will be critical for policy makers to reevaluate Afghanistan’s internal stability and the consequences of a withdrawal based on time constraints rather than achievements.