The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan described the bold and vicious raid on the heart of Kabul’s military and diplomatic operations as “not a very big deal.” NATO’s Secretary-General vowed it would not affect the transition, or the handing over of security responsibilities to Afghan forces by 2014.
Who are they trying to kid? The assault endured for 20 hours, left 16 Afghans dead and paralyzed the city. The insurgents dressed up in burkas, infiltrated the “ring of steel” that surrounds the American embassy and NATO headquarters, and fired rocket-propelled grenades from a building overlooking the compound. Hundreds of U.S. diplomats and staff had to take shelter in an embassy bunker, while the Taliban gleefully sent out text messages to journalists with a blow-by-blow account of events.
The West has invested too much in Afghanistan to have such incidents white-washed. The U.S., Canadian and other concerned governments should be honest with their citizens about the precarious state of security in the country, and the challenges ahead. There is no sense in pretending that the Taliban is not still a threat, in order to justify the withdrawal of Western forces, or to measure the success of the NATO mission. Clearly, the country is still extremely vulnerable to large-scale suicide attacks and bombs.
This week’s brazen assault, meant to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S., is only the latest in a string of high-profile incidents – including the recent assassination of President Hamid Karzai’s half-brother, and an attack on the British Cultural Centre. Such attacks are designed to undermine confidence in the Afghans’ ability to police their own state, and to illustrate the Taliban’s continued strength. It also reveals the weakness of the Afghan army, despite intensive training efforts. (Though Canada’s combat mission ended in July, 1,000 Canadian Forces personnel are in Kabul as trainers.) Taliban forces have successfully infiltrated both the army and the Afghan National Police.
The West doesn’t have the stomach, or the deep pockets, to prolong its mission. But in order to help Afghanistan become a truly self-sufficient state, the seriousness of such a galling security breach – and intelligence failure – must be recognized, and overcome.