The World from Berlin 'The Taliban Wants to Undermine the Handover'

Taliban insurgents on Monday plunged the Afghan capital Kabul into chaos with a series of well-coordinated attacks across the city. Militarily, the offensive was a failure. But the propaganda value of the attack, which comes ahead of the Afghanistan conference later this month, is clear, say German commentators.

For much of its existence, the Taliban has been largely a rural force. Even as its influence has spread across ever larger regions of Afghanistan, the Islamist extremists have concentrated on the countryside and seemed content to largely shun the country's population centers.

On Monday, though, the Taliban showed that it can strike in the cities as well. In a series of well-coordinated attacks on Monday morning, a handful of Taliban fighters plunged the Afghan capital Kabul into chaos. Despite heavy security in the city, insurgent suicide bombers were able to target several government buildings, the Serena Hotel, two shopping centers and the National Bank. Gunfights between Afghan police and the Taliban fighters continued for hours after the initial explosions.

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Photo Gallery: Assault on Kabul
According to Afghan officials, at least seven insurgents lost their lives in the attacks, as did four security personnel and two civilians. Some 71 people were injured in the fighting, with all but three having been released from hospital by Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.

The attack, though, sent a clear message that the Taliban remains capable of striking at the heart of the Afghan state, even as the US begins sending 30,000 additional troops to the war-torn country. Furthermore, it became apparent that the state itself still has shortcomings when it comes to security. Gunfire echoed around the Kabul city center for hours as fighters were able to hold their own in standoffs with security forces. Some estimate that a mere dozen Taliban attackers took part in the raid.

The timing of the attack was, say observers, well chosen. Afghan President Hamid Karzai was scheduled to swear in the first ministers of his new cabinet on Monday, even as the country's parliament once again rejected several of his cabinet nominees over the weekend. Furthermore, the international Afghanistan summit is scheduled to take place at the end of the month in London.

German commentators take a closer look at the offensive on Tuesday.

In its coverage, SPIEGEL ONLINE writes:

"In the run-up to the Afghanistan conference in London, the attack is evidence of how vulnerable security is in the capital city. As much as politicians would like to discuss perspectives for a withdrawal in London, the Taliban (attack) clearly shows that this intent is hardly realistic right now. The security situation is too precarious. At the moment, it's not even certain whether a meeting of special envoys to Afghanistan in which rough goals were to be agreed to for the London conference will even still take place as planned on Wednesday in Kabul."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"The Taliban have shown once again that they can have a relatively large impact at relatively little cost. It took only 20 of its well-coordinated fighters to carry the war into the Afghan capital. The attack shows how terrorism can keep on harassing a society and curtailing its freedoms. It also shows how poorly prepared the Afghan security forces are to combat it. Kabul was paralyzed for five hours until the gunfire finally stopped. There was little coordination among the security forces, and a lot of confusion."

"But the Taliban movement is unsettled and under pressure. It is confined to pin-prick attacks and acts of terror. And among the majority of the Afghan population, there's growing anger at these holy warriors."

The conservative Die Welt writes:

"As preparations continue for the London conference, the Taliban has also registered its views in its own way. … An attack like this, regardless how long it has been prepared or how well coordinated, will not topple the government. The goal is more to prove that Karzai's government and its Western protectors are not even capable of protecting themselves. If they can't do that, then how are they supposed to protect the average man, woman or young girl making her way to school? The Taliban wants to undermine the gradual handover of security to the Afghan military and police -- which is central to the exit strategy of Washington and its allies -- and to assert their claim to power."

"If the insurgents can continue long enough to spark the rejection and protests of voters in Germany and elsewhere, then they will have won. … But it is odd that the Taliban commanders have chosen the wrong point in time for the attack. It's the indescribable suffering in Haiti that is on the minds of most people around the world these days, not the next rocket salvos in Afghanistan."

The left-leaning daily Die Tageszeitung writes:

"The Taliban isn't marching into Kabul -- not yet, at least. But their attack shows that they can strike even in the country's supposedly secure center of power. … The aim of the attack had less to do with military objectives and more with propaganda. It is similar to rebel attacks on the power centers of other countries such as the Tet Offensive by the Viet Cong in 1968, the Sandinistas' siege of the National Palace in Nicaragua in 1978 or even the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. All were militarily useless, but sent extremely effective propaganda messages. They were able to change the public perception of the respective conflicts, and thus to some extent change the course of those conflicts."

"Whether the latest attack will have the same effect is not clear. But the timing of the attack, which took place on the day of the swearing-in of a number of ministers and just a few days before the Afghanistan conference in London, was deliberate. The Taliban demonstrated that there can be no military security in Afghanistan. In the process, they wanted to show that US President Barack Obama's strategy of a surge aimed at defeating the Taliban militarily cannot succeed. That will make it more difficult for other countries to increase their troop levels and increase pressure to reach a political solution based on the Taliban's conditions, which include the withdrawal of all foreign troops."

-- Charles Hawley


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