A Mini-Offensive in Afghanistan The Taliban's New Threat to NATO

The Taliban recently conducted three spectacular strikes against American forces in Afghanistan within the space of a few days. The attacks are creating negative headlines for NATO forces and making it difficult for them to notch up the important successes they need to build support for the deployment back home.

Four high-ranking NATO soldiers were killed in a bloody attack in Kabul on May 18.
DPA

Four high-ranking NATO soldiers were killed in a bloody attack in Kabul on May 18.

By Ulrike Demmer and


The sign on the sports field reads: "Clean up after using." But there is no one to be found playing volleyball here on this Sunday morning, and no one is cleaning up either. The field is closed. Two American soldiers are staring at a pile of boards located behind red-and-white barricade tape. The wooden planks are stained with blood.

The site looked different on Saturday. The planks were part of stairs where people used to take coffee breaks. The sports field is surrounded by businesses -- there's the Mamma Mia pizzeria, the United Afghan Carpet company, Green Beans World Café -- and all were connected by a veranda. Just after 8 p.m., one of five rockets that had been fired by insurgents at the Kandahar NATO base struck its intended target. Several NATO soldiers and civilian workers were injured.

The missiles struck the ISAF troops in southern Afghanistan in precisely the place where the soldiers were seeking to forget about the war for a few minutes. The four other rockets only caused damage to property. Still, the headlines created by the third Taliban attack in the space of just a few days make uncomfortable reading for NATO. The Taliban, one general conceded, are showing, at the very least, that they are still around.

The insurgents attacked the airport at Kandahar just after sunset. The Kandahar Airfield is so big that it would take a quarter of an hour for a car to cross it from one end to the other. Around 25,000 soldiers live and work here. The base is the staging ground for the last attempt by the alliance to defeat the Taliban. The fresh soldiers being deployed by US President Barack Obama are sent into battle from here.

The tarmac is divided into zones, from A to Z. In Zone W for Whiskey, four airplanes are currently awaiting clearance for takeoff. Flight 073 to Kabul, a Hercules, is full. US solders sit shoulder to shoulder, squeezed into the cargo area of the dark green transport aircraft. Most have their eyes closed. The oppressive heat is only tolerable in body armour if you remain motionless.

War-Like Conditions on Base

It is around 8:45 p.m. when a soldier who is part of the crew on the Hercules hollers: "Is there anybody with ammunition on board?" Three soldiers who are carrying weapons stand up. Rumors circulate of a rocket attack by insurgents, and confirmation follows shortly. Through the loudspeakers over the tarmac, one can hear: "KAF is under ground attack -- take shelter in place -- force protection are dealing with the situation."

As the soldiers leave the Hercules and make their way to the bunker, the skies over the tarmac light up as if with fireworks. Six Apache attack helicopters are firing tracer bullets over Zone W, the thunder of an A-10 fighter jet can be heard and sirens are going off.

"Insurgents have fired on the camp with rockets," says one general. Later it will be reported that 12 ISAF troops were injured and three insurgents were shot as they tried to penetrate the base from the northern edge of the camp.

Meanwhile in the bunker, an interpretation of the attacks is already being discussed. People are saying that, the attack on Kandahar Airfield, the largest base in southern Afghanistan, wasn't so bad, relatively speaking. In other words, it wasn't very big, it wasn't planned very well and it wasn't as hard to stop as the attack conducted by a handful of suicide bombers against Bagram, the largest US base in Afghanistan, just four days earlier.

It took hours for the US Army to stop attackers at the perimeter of the gigantic Bagram base. Although none of the insurgents breached the perimeter, the skirmishes lasted from midnight to early morning and the Taliban managed to kill an American contractor.

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