The large cracks in fortress Kabul

April 16, 2012

Arrive in Kabul and you know you are in a war zone, despite the heaving traffic on its crumbling roads. Whole streets are blocked off by concertina wire and sandbags, while a  zig-zag series of  blast walls are designed to stop or at least slow down the suicide bomber.  Indeed, the walls seem to get higher and more neighbourhoods disappear behind this concrete curtain each time you go back. And yet insurgents have repeatedly breached the layer-upon-layer of security, as  happened in September when the vast U.S. embassy compound came under attack, and now on Sunday when the upscale Wazir Akbar Khan diplomatic district was again targeted along with parliament.

The one feature common to the multiple attacks on Sunday and the daring September operation was that the attackers sneaked into half-finished or empty buildings, took positions half-way up the building and were able to hold off an armada of helicopters and Special Operations forces for up to 20 hours.   Kabul has been in the  midst of a construction boom that has slowed only recently as the Western pullout looms in 2014. The result is that you have a number of these high rise buildings in the centre of town which offer vantage views of the city – especially the sealed-off parts where the diplomatic and political elite live in virtual bunkers,  and which an ordinary Afghan can hardly ever see, much less gain access to.  From the reports so far, the attackers didn’t have to do much to get into these lightly guarded blocks, many of them just empty shells.  Once in, it was easy to hide behind a concrete pillar on a sixth-floor landing and fire rocket propelled grenades at the western installations below while holding off  the choppers.  The question is why are these buildings left unguarded even after the U.S. embassy was attacked from another one in the vicinity last September. What about the measures that were set in place to monitor such high-rises?

While the jury is still out on the implications of Sunday’s attacks (for some excellent analysis read this blogpost or this piece by the Afghanistan Analysts Network) there is a sloppiness to security which gives pause for thought.

You get the same gnawing worry at Kabul airport, supposed to be one of the most secure places in Afghanistan. You go through multiple checks, get out of your car several times to be patted down, take an airport bus to the terminal building, or walk carrying your bags through eerily empty grounds ringed by Afghan army and police. At one airport checkpoint during a visit last month, a soldier checking my pockets asked for “baksheesh”. I was surprised but pretended not to understand. He said it again and I continued to feign lack of understanding, sliding away as his face fell.  But if the man could be bought off with baksheesh, what would have stopped me from smuggling through a knife or even a pistol?

You know money is changing hands if you watch carefully when a car stops at one of the checkpoints at the airport and the guard refuses to let it go through. An argument ensues and the driver steps out; they keep talking until the man embraces the guard in the Afghan form of greeting and neatly hands over a $10 bill so quickly that you scarcely notice.  They keep talking loudly, the driver returns to the car and the gates are opened.

In short, the Afghan administration which is responsible for security in the capital has set up what was proudly called a Ring of Steel but which has obvious chinks in its armour which an adversary can easily exploit. For each corrupt security guard, there are at least five others who cannot be bought and that is perhaps why complex attacks like Sunday’s do not happen more often.  And as was immediately clear on Sunday, Afghan forces fought back bravely and by all accounts , in a professional manner. Some amount of backup came from NATO,  including strafing runs by helicopters on the  buildings, despite an initial attempt to spin the whole operation as entirely Afghan. But  overall the Afghan forces acquitted themselves well.

Their challenge, however, going forward is how to strengthen that Ring of Steel so you don’t get these kind of  deep penetration attacks in the first place.

 

 

 

Comments

Sanjeev,
This was just a live trial run, preparation for the spring offensive and the prior warning to the enemy, be prepared for the 2012 offensive. From now on the people in the west shall witness LIVE on cable networks by the Talibans sustained attack! Mr Karzai statement that Afghan and the NATO security system faled is the reality.

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive
 

First crack in the political unity of the Obama alliance forcing NATO laders to shut up and hold independent actions of cut and run. Austraian Prime Minister, in her Nations interest announced in advance of Chicago Conference, that her troops shall return home in middle of 2013. All other NATO countries are likely to follow before their troops start pissing as well. For the Talibans when the soldiers start urinating, they are flattened and no more in a position to withstand the combat. More and more actions on the scale of Vietnam offensive shall now be witnessed throughout Afghanistan. The Northern Alliance Harkis must now be registering for entry visa to USA?

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive
 

Here is an American response:In truth the USA has invested too many lives & too much money in a nation building project where there is no desire to create a nation. We are simply losing interest in building a nation where the adults are onlt interested in building the power of their tribe or ethnic group. Well good lick Afghanis & go back to slaughtering each other without our help or money. We are not the Brits of the 19th cent. If the Afghanis get in our way as we leave we will simply leave via a path of fire & blood. Enjoy!!!

Posted by waqaa | Report as abusive
 

The downfall of the Roman Power tells us that while their expeditionary legions were still engaged in foreign lands, the power of Rome was melting away.
George W went to Afghanistan and Iraq and the American dministration went over to a black leader who wants to legalise gay marriages at federal level, while a mormon is in the waiting to introduce polygamy the mormon way at the federal level. There are those who have migrated to Australia nd there are others who are watching with dismay whatevder happened to the great country, which is now being run by the credits from China and the Saudis. Did some one say Nation building? A lot of nation building is needed back home now to stop the fall of this Giant! Not very easy to turn around the aircraft carrier?

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive
 

The new President of France is proving to his people that all his promises will be implemented. The incumbent USA leader could take a lesson from the leader of a Nation which has thousands of history! France shall pull out its combat forces from Afghanistan end 2012.

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive
 

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