The brazen series of attacks launched by the Taliban recently against high-profile targets throughout Afghanistan was intended to demonstrate that, far from being a spent force, the movement still has the ability to create mayhem. By launching a simultaneous assault on the main NATO compound in Kabul, the presidential palace, foreign embassies and several other targets, the Taliban sought to start its “spring offensive” in spectacular fashion.
In the event, the attacks ended in failure, although the fact that well-armed groups of Taliban fighters were able to penetrate the heavily fortified military, governmental and diplomatic compounds in the capital inevitably raises worrying questions about the effectiveness of security arrangements: As Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president said, the ease with which the Taliban breached the security cordon suggests a major intelligence failure on the part of both Afghan and NATO forces. …
Where does this leave us? The Taliban’s intent was almost certainly psychological — to shatter any feeling of security in the capital, and focus minds on what will happen when the Westerners depart. The operation also showed that the Afghans still have a long way to go before they have all the means at their disposal to see off their enemies: they relied heavily on NATO helicopters, intelligence and special forces, and are likely to need such assistance for many years to come if they are to keep the Taliban at bay, or force them to the negotiating table.
This makes the decisions reached at the May NATO conference in Chicago all the more important, since it is there that the major Western powers will debate how much support they are prepared to offer once NATO has ended combat operations. If, in our rush to the exit, we leave the Afghans to fend for themselves, it will have disastrous consequences for their security — and for ours.
The Telegraph, London (April 20)