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Afghan security forces show they're not prepared

Posted: April 24, 2012 - 12:00am

KABUL, Afghanistan — Although things have finally calmed down, for 18 hours all of the capital was on edge and in lockdown mode after the widespread attacks by insurgents on April 15.

People were calling friends and family to make sure that everyone was OK. Roads were closed. Embassies were shut, the university was closed, and the staffs of non-governmental organizations hid inside their offices. A friend who was at the Polish embassy called me to say the staff was being confined to the kitchen there. He was frightened that if the terrorists didn’t kill him, the police might shoot him, thinking he was an insurgent.

It was only the next morning that the roads were finally reopened and a semblance of order and normalcy was restored.

Initially, many in the government were saying how proud they were of the way Afghan security forces performed in driving back the insurgents. But others, including myself, worry about the wider capacity of our forces. They should have stopped the attacks before they began.

In key locations in Kabul, near diplomatic missions and the center of political power, the insurgents showed once again that they could do whatever they wanted. They even attacked the presidential palace. That’s a very worrying sign.

The insurgents were very well-equipped, armed and supplied. They clearly had been preparing for these attacks for a long time. That they succeeded on such a grand scale can only be seen as a failure of government forces to gather vital intelligence about the intentions and capability of the insurgency.

The Taliban had warned repeatedly that they were planning to launch a spring offensive, as they have done for the last 10 years. They’ve routinely used building construction sites from which to stage their attacks. So, one has to wonder why a building under construction that faces the Afghan parliament building was left unguarded. Another worrying issue is lack of coordination among the different Afghan agencies, and the fact that the insurgents must have their own people working inside the security forces.

While some say the Haqqani network, based in Pakistan, was behind the attacks, it really doesn’t matter to Afghans which faction of the insurgency is responsible for the latest outrage.

What’s important is the capacity of the Afghan security forces, and their ability to prevent this kind of attack. It makes us ask what will happen after 2014 when the international forces leave. That date has now been fixed, and the international forces, having suffered heavy losses both financially and in terms of casualties, cannot afford to remain here.

A lot of Afghan businessmen are already leaving, taking their work to Dubai and moving their families out of the country. They are afraid not just of the insurgents, but of another civil war breaking out.

• Rahmani is country director in Afghanistan who writes for The Institute for War & Peace Reporting, a nonprofit organization that trains journalists in areas of conflict.

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