By William Tucker
A Taliban force, numbering about ten, launched an attack on the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters. Several suicide attacks against Afghan police stations in Kabul coincided with the larger attack on the international targets. Reports from the International Stabilization Force indicate that the attackers were able to hit the Embassy from an adjacent building that is under construction. The attack is still underway, but Afghan police have killed several of the attackers and are currently clearing the unfinished building. The attackers did not manage to breach the inner security rings around the U.S. Embassy or NATO headquarters, and it is possible that the attack was not designed to do so. Taliban planners were obviously familiar with the security in the area and were more concerned with sending a message than actually breaching the buildings.
The attack is notable because it was aimed at a high security area, but beyond that, it is the type of attack the Taliban are more than capable of. Instead of simply focusing on the attack, the larger context of U.S. – Taliban negotiations should be considered. Both sides have held low level discussions in the past regarding typical aspects of warfare such as prisoner swaps, but the U.S. has been duped several times in the past by negotiating with Taliban imposters. In essence, neither side has fared well in moving towards high level negotiations for ending hostilities. Things have begun to turn around in the last year, however. Taliban leader Mullah Omar has recently shown more of a willingness to talk directly with the U.S. He has moved in this direction because he believes the Taliban have the upper hand.
For its part, the U.S. understands that the Taliban will be a part of a post war Afghanistan, but that doesn’t mean the movement is strong enough to dominate the country. Washington wants, in the words of Ambassador Crocker, to bleed the Taliban some more in order to shape negotiations. This serves two purposes: weaken the Taliban movement where possible, and two, foster infighting between rival Taliban commanders. Both parties understand that some sort of negotiating will take place, but the fight to shape the environment in which these talks take place is still ongoing. Today’s attack is just one part of this battle.