Finding the silver(ish) lining in Afghanistan's Emerald City

5 Things You Should Know: Kabul Attacks

Since I was lazy this week and didn’t compile the “5 Things I Learned This Week in Afghanistan,” I’m doing one on the Kabul attacks here in…Kabul. And it’s less what I learned but more what I, as some dude with a blog, want you to know about these events.

Because I love me some Storify, here’s one that rolls up what happened pretty well. Go there. Read it.

And for a really mindless Vietnam connection, there is this:

That may prompt some to draw comparisons with the 1968 Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War. There are major differences in the scale and length of the events and casualties but the assault may still challenge assertions that America is winning.

Yes, absolutely: an engagement that resulted in minimal casualties, was responded to quickly by the ANSF, and ended up accomplishing virtually none of its tactical goals is just…like…Tet.

Anyone who draws those kinds of comparisons probably has a whole library of pop up books and worry they might fall off the edge of the world.

Otherwise that article is a pretty decent piece of reporting.

Once you’re done reading, come back and let me explain it all for you, so when you huddle around your water cooler and talk about Afghanistan for like, seconds, you can sound just that much smarter.

Then you can worry about whether Kim and Kanye is “for really realsies.”

1. This was a success for the ANSF. 

These...are Afghan commandos. (via ISAF)

ANSF responded quickly and professionally, and did what they’ve been trained to do, and hopefully we’ll hear some stories of their bravery in the coming days instead of just the usual speculative drivel about the future of Afghanistan.

You’re liable to hear a lot of pundits/experts/eyewitnesses going on about how this ‘siege’ lasted for 16 hours. Just like the events of September 2011, the attackers very quickly lost whatever advantage they had, and ended up holed up in Parliament and in a half-completed building in the Wazir-Akbar-Khan neighborhood.

Just like the activities in September, at some point the attackers are all cut off, they’re not shooting at anyone except the forces engaged in the operation, and rushing into that building is going to get more people hurt/killed than is necessary.  Taking one’s time makes a lot of sense: not sexy, but still effective.

Regardless of how many ISAF personnel were involved in the operation (and there were several), the lead, and eventual ‘win’ (if anyone really wins in these situations) goes to the ANSF, particularly their commando forces.

2. This was not an independent ANSF success. 

No, they didn't fire Hellfires, but if you need these, you're not exactly operating independently, are ya? (via guncopter.com)

Which may seem to be a contradiction of the previous statement, but what needs to be understood here is that the ANSF, while achieving greater levels of capability, are not yet ready to conduct any operations completely independently of ISAF support.

Specifically in this case, seven strafing runs were carried out by NATO UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters. These weren’t just observation runs, or providing illumination for the Afghan Special Forces types: full on rounds-on-target close air support.

I may have tweeted my thoughts:

Whether the Afghans could have completed this mission successfully without that air support isn’t clear, but at some point someone made the decision to fly those missions, and whoever that was is not confident that the situation could be resolved without the additional fire support provided by the NATO aerial platforms.

Additionally, ISAF personnel were also on the ground providing fire support and whatever mentoring activities were required to make the mission a success. Again, possible without their presence? That’s unclear, but the point once more is this: someone didn’t think so. So they were called in at that point.

3. Tactically, a Taliban (or whoever) defeat.

These guys or some other guys: they kinda lost. Maybe. (via thegatewaypundit.com)

Unless their goal was to keep the residents of Kabul awake most of the night, the attackers achieved very little of any actual consequence. The majority of the wounded (at last report) were treated and released by Kabul-area hospitals, and most of the reported dead were from the insurgent side.

So they took over another half-constructed building and kept ANSF occupied for a lot of hours: not that big a deal.

I’ll explain that ‘whoever’ bit later.

4. In the perception war, a Taliban (or whoever) win. 

No, they didn't have tanks. But anytime I can get pics of dudes in turbans on tanks, I'm postin' it. (via vkb.isvg.org)

Kabul is supposed to be the most secure city in Afghanistan, and once again, some insurgent group managed to stockpile weapons and supplies in a half-constructed building at the edge of the diplomatic area here in Kabul and light the city up for hours at a time.

If the message is: “We can get you anywhere,” message sent. Just, once they get there, they don’t tend to accomplish much. This speaks to increasing leves of proficiency by the ANSF in their response to the situation, but also to the lack of quality intel/planning to make sure these kinds of events do not happen again.

If the playbook had changed dramatically from the events of September of 2011, then those things happen, but in this case it’s almost identical. So someone’s making it very clear that the government of Afghanistan really can’t stop them from doing what they want to do.

Also, secondary to the Kabul discussion is the fact that multiple attacks occurred yesterday in Afghanistan. According to any reports, they all ended pretty much the same way, with the insurgents not doing nearly the damage they’d hoped, but this was a well-coordinated attack. Which, is pretty much in direct response to BG Carsten Jacobson (ISAF spokesman) and his comments recently:

“No announcement has been made by the insurgency, but we are looking at what they are doing at the moment. We are looking at this year with very open eyes,” Jacobson told Reuters in an interview.

“They are focusing on attacks on individual posts, on small groups, outposts of soldiers. We haven’t seen any cohesive action,” he said late on Monday.

Of course, the insurgency did make an announcement on Sunday, and effective or not, the attacks yesterday were definitely cohesive. Also, last time I checked, Kabul isn’t exactly an “outpost.”

5. We really want it to be the Haqqani.

'Cuz Haqqani just makes this all a lot easier. (via wikipedia)

Even though the United States is working to repair relations with Pakistan, it’s in the best interests of ISAF for this to have been done by the Haqqani. Ambassador Crocker certainly thinks so:

He suggested the attacks may be the work of the Haqqani network, rather than the Taliban, saying the Taliban did not have the capacity to carry them out.

This is important for three reasons:

  • If it’s the Haqqani that pulled all this together, it means that ISAF/ANSF have been successful in diminishing the capacity of the Taliban, and therefore justifies all the efforts and money spent in Afghanistan
  • If it’s the Haqqani, that keeps the options open for the post-2014 Afghanistan of which Director Petraeus dreams: a drone and SOF base to keep the pressure on the border regions, dealing with the heart of Al Qaeda/Haqqani/TTP/QST et al.
  • If it’s the Haqqani, then that continues to perpetuate the idea that Afghan (read: Karzai) government is doing all it can to make this a better world for all of us…it’s those pesky Pakistani terrorists, not real Afghans, causing all the ruckus.

So there you go: the definitive be-all end-all five talking points on today. OK, so there’s probably a lot more to cover, but I’m tired. It was noisy last night.

I am so calling the cops on the neighbors next time.

Categorised in: 5 Things I Learned This Week in the 'Stan, Featured

31 Responses »

  1. Really good thoughts, thanks. I was there during the 13 Sept attacks and was also struck by how virtually identical this one was – same kind of targets, tactics, casualties, timeframe, ANSF “heavily-mentored-but-ultimately-not-a-bad-effort” response. Major propaganda value for the insurgency, to be sure, but they must have hoped for a little more success surely. Maybe the law of diminishing returns suggests they will struggle to maintain the shock value each time? I was more impressed/shocked/stunned by the Rabbani assassination. Martine van Bijlert (AAN) also suggested the Kabulis massively less impressed than the Westerners. Still, at least this time ISAF press spokesman Jakobson managed to look and sound a little less like he was under a table deep down in an ISAF bunker…

    Cheers

    Tim

    • What was more impactful about the Rabbani assassination?

      • Well, I’m unwilling to undermine the line I normally take on this – these Taliban attacks definitely have significant media value. But the Rabbani killing felt a much more cold, clinical and definitive (not to mention well planned and executed) statement about the Taliban’s approach to negotiations (more so than their recent “suspension” of dialogue) and gave me a real sense that the civil war made a significant lurch closer. Yes, the High Peace Council isn’t doing much, and arguably isn’t ever likely to achieve anything, but the political and religious symbolism of the victim represented much more. We’ve seen some pretty strong statements from former Northern Alliance members – Abdullah and Saleh (“the Taliban are not our brothers, they’re our killers”). Increasing concern from that camp – rearming?? Its kind of natural for the Taliban to have a pop at ISAF and embassies but, if I were they, I would be looking to eliminate more of the key players that they‘ll otherwise be facing in the next round. For my money, definitely more significant and damaging to Afghanistan’s longer-term future.

        Thoughts?

        Cheers

        Tim

      • Rabbani’s appointment as head of the HPC was one of Karzai’s better (though not subtle) political moves. PK knows Rabbani/Taliban negotiations will never happen, but it shows (mainly to the West) that he’s serious about the peace process, since Rabbani pulls some serious weight in this country.

        As to Saleh/et al — their meeting last fall with members of US Congress last fall in Germany speaks volumes about how far they’ve fallen in terms of the personal alliances and control they’re able to exert in this country. Karzai has systematically managed to break up any political alliances they may have been able to put together over the last few years, so their only viable option for any kind of support is to go outside of Afghanistan.

        Not sure they’ll ever rearm…they might as a last resort, but they want a piece of the political pie post-2014 (or whenever).

        The Taliban aren’t having to eliminate these players: Karzai is doing such a fine job of that on the political/power front for them. My money is that they’ll be fairly irrelevant if Karzai has his way.

  2. Have you been following True History – An Imperial Farce? There’s an exchange which captures these divergent viewpoints in the “Star Wars Theory of the GWOT”…

    “…the Taliban have watched Star Wars too often, especially Episodes Four and Six…they’ve been convinced that a bunch of teenagers and teddy bears can take down an empire, because the hulking technological behemoth always has a single flaw that will destroy the whole system.”

    “Naturally, the Americans have their own Star Wars induced strategic blind spot. Take the entire theory behind Effects Based Operations, Network Mapping and Center of Gravity Analysis. Behind this whole strategic architecture is an almost theological belief that there’s one nodal point, and if we can just hit it – we win. All American strategic thinking is fundamentally framed by the theory behind the Death Star trench run.”

    http://twshiloh.com/?p=7773

  3. Hey Dan!! I just read postings on #Karzai blaming #NATO for intel failures… ummm what is wrong with this man? Every time I hear him speak, I just think “incompetent idiot.” Is there any one in Afghan government w/ some common sense? Someone you could recommend following? Thx!

    • Actually, on this point, I think Karzai’s right: the majority of the attacks weren’t against Afghan targets, but against NATO targets (outside of Kabul). After 10 years, any military organization that doesn’t have the capacity to a) be more connected via intelligence to what’s going on, and b) to prevent multiple simultaneous complex attacks…that’s troubling. Interesting article here from the New York Times, and this quote from a NATO source:

      “It was not lost on anybody that these were very well-coordinated, well-timed attacks,” a senior American official said. A Western official added, “We had general indications that they were planning something in April, but nothing specific enough to actually act on.”

      The 2nd page of that article is well worth the read.

      It’s easy to dismiss Karzai as being an incompetent idiot: nothing could be further from the truth. He’s positioning himself nicely for a Putin-style government where he steps back, but not away, then will likely run again after the next president is done with his first term.

      • Unwilling to downright defend ISAF, but my times in Kabul suggested that there was always some reporting about an attack bubbling or imminent…

      • Agreed, but that’s Kabul. Kabul will always have multiple threats against it. The fact that a massive, multi-province attack took place without anyone knowing it was coming is disappointing given ISAF’s extended presence here already.

  4. Outstanding as always. Loved ISAF’s tweet to you stating “limited support”

  5. How hard is it to stop a 6′ dude in a burka? Wearing combat boots underneath?

  6. I swear I will spontaneously grow ovum in my bid to have your babies.

    • Weirdest comment to date. I think this is a compliment? I will let my wife know that should we need surrogacy, we have a (likely unhinged) candidate. So…thanks. I think.

      • Definitely a compliment, and a perfectly hinged one at that. The ultimate expression of one man’s hetero admiration for another is his completely platonic desire to (against his wishes naturally) birth that man’s progeny through the intervention of science (or girl’s knickers and lipstick).

        Executive summary? You blog good, Mongo smash propagandists. MONGO SMASH!

      • If it weren’t for propagandists, I wouldn’t have nearly as much fun. The hingeness of the compliment? Still up for debate, but most of my favorite people are completely unhinged, so that is all good.

        And thanks…needed the laugh this week.

  7. From what I understand, the Afghans are not checked out to fly at night yet… It’s a matter of proficiency. At least, that’s the way it was about a year ago when I was at IJC. Either way, great analysis, as usual, El Snarkistani.

    • I kind of figured that might be the case: flying night ops is tricky even for a fully mature air support element. What was interesting is that the ‘hawks didn’t roll out until nearly 12 hours into the whole event. And, really, how effective is CAS in an urban environment unless folks are on the rooftop? Which, in this case, they were not.

      Thanks for the input though, and the props. Always looking for that affirmation. Ego, etc.

  8. Good write up and the whole Tet Offensive comparison is weak at best. The Afghans have Hinds and Hips though, ncie to see they played a role in this even if it was small. Question really is, does this mean a larger spring offensive for non-Haqqani backed groups? How will traditional TB respond in Kandahar?

    • Here’s the tricky part of the whole parsing out of the Quetta Shura Taliban vs. Haqqani Network (QST, HN) operation: it appears to be a fairly artificial distinction that, while a political tool to lay blame with Pakistan and the ISI, doesn’t seem to be a real distinction that is made by the insurgents themselves.

      In other words, when it comes to ISAF/NATO/GIRoA, HN and QST make a pretty common cause for the most part. The ideological distinctions are mainly external to those organizations.

      And we’ll see what happens with a coming spring offensive–the 15 April attacks were pretty well-coordinated, and similar in all locations: find abandoned under-construction building, and light things up.

      Plus, any standoff that lasts for 16+ hours means prior logistical considerations that speak to pretty significant failures by the NDS in intel, etc. So, good-ish day for ANSF, but as an overal transtion/progress report card? Probably still a “D.”

  9. Reblogged this on Afghanistan-A-Go-Go and commented:
    Here, from another blog I quite enjoy, is some info on what happened yesterday, and a pretty good take on it. I particularly agree with the derision about the comparison to the Tet Offensive. That’s probably the most nonsensical comment I’ve ever heard. It was nothing like Tet at all.

  10. I rolled my eyes a lot when I saw the Tet comparisons. It was nothing like that.

    The AAF was out during the afternoon – they had 2 Hinds in the air in the southern part of the city. I didn’t see them engage anyone, but just their presence is pretty intimidating.

    Overall, it was probably a pretty good success for the ANSF, but the insurgency is of course out in front in the info ops war, that’s the trick that has to be dealt with.

    • I missed the 2 x Hinds out and about. And not sure how reassuring Hinds really are to the Afghans… ‘cuz they tend to be, I dunno, Russian? They sure weren’t up last night, though.

      • They were down Darulaman way around 4:30pm I think – something like that. I’ve never seen them in flight before – pretty intimidating, but good think to know is on your side…

      • They were up during the last little happy fun Kabul time in September. Apparently they only do gun runs during the day. ISAF owns the night, etc.

      • Yeah – neither ANA nor insurgent night fighting capability is that great, I think…

Trackbacks

  1. Reporter As Mouthpiece, or Why ISAF Loves the Journos | It's Always Sunny in Kabul
  2. 5 Things You Need to Know About Kabul Attacks: 02 May 2012 edition | It's Always Sunny in Kabul

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