Monday, July 4, 2011

Hotel attack proves Taliban can strike anywhere in Afghanistan


A rear part of the Intercontinental hotel
that caught on fire turned to black after it
was attacked by militants in
Kabul, Afghanistan, last week.
Last Tuesday evening, the Taliban staged one of their most brazen attacks to date in the Afghan capital.
For nearly four hours, nine heavily armed suicide bombers invaded the Intercontinental hotel in the middle of Kabul, battling security forces and targeting foreign hotel guests.

After NATO helicopters and Special Forces operatives were deployed, the last of the wounded Taliban detonated his explosive vest, taking his own life and ending the bloody battle.

It was estimated that 11 civilians were killed during the attack and several dozen more wounded, while all nine insurgents achieved their aim of dying in battle.

The Intercontinental has long been a prominent landmark in Kabul as it is perched on a steep hill and visible from nearly everywhere in the city.

During my many trips to Kabul, I have never stayed at the Intercontinental but I have visited colleagues there on several occasions. What had once been the most luxurious hotel in Afghanistan still showed glimpses of its former glory but three decades of war have left scars too deep to conceal. Nevertheless, many foreigners choose to reside there for the fact that, until the June 29 attack, the Intercontinental gave the impression of being a safe fortress.

Ascending to the hilltop hotel is a solitary road protected by a number of fortified checkpoints manned by Afghan police and security forces. Knowing the lay of this land makes it difficult to understand how nine, heavily armed, suicide bombers were able to penetrate that many layers of security before entering the hotel — unless there was collusion with the guards.

NATO and the Karzai government were quick to point out that the relatively low loss of civilian life and the fact that the security response resulted in the death of all attackers tallied up to a Taliban defeat. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

The goal of the Taliban was to stage a symbolic demonstration of their presence in the middle of Kabul, despite the efforts of Afghan and NATO forces combined. In this, they were extremely successful.

For nearly four hours, it would have been impossible for Kabul residents to be unaware that a battle was raging at the Intercontinental. The flashes, booms and sounds of helicopter gunships emanating from that hilltop landmark certainly made it clear that the Taliban can disrupt the security situation in Afghanistan wherever they choose.

This of course flies in the face of the recent pronouncement by U.S. President Barack Obama in which he announced the start of American troop reduction in Afghanistan. Obama’s rationale was that the recent surge of U.S. troops had succeeded in turning the tide in NATO’s favour.

However, as evidenced by the Intercontinental attack and the continued spike in NATO casualties, the surge succeeded only in intensifying the conflict. The Intercontinental attack also highlighted the folly of turning over increased responsibility to the ill-trained Afghan security forces. Once again, at a crucial juncture, Afghan security disappeared prior to this attack.

After nearly a decade of training, equipping and funding the Afghan army and police, we have yet to buy their loyalty — and we never will.

They are paid by foreigners to wear western-style uniforms in order to prop up a hated and corrupt regime that failed to win a democratic mandate following the farcical 2009 elections. They will continue to pocket as much NATO cash as they can.

And it should be noted that Afghan soldiers make a relatively lucrative salary that is three times that of Afghan teachers. Once the U.S. and NATO countries complete the projected withdrawal of all troops by 2014, the Afghan security forces will quickly dissolve back into the private militias of warlords.
One has to hope they have enough remaining loyalty in the rental agreement to secure the airfields until the last of NATO’s planes are airborne.

Scott Taylor is an author and editor of Esprit de Corps magazine. (

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