The Afghan capital was rocked by a brazen suicide attack on the British Council early Friday morning, heightening concern about the ability of Afghan security forces to defend the country against a resurgent Taliban.
The attack, which left at least eight Afghan policemen and one foreign soldier dead, came on Afghan Independence Day – a holiday that marks the nation's complete independence from the British in 1919.
"The British were defeated on the same day and we wanted to remind them that as your grandfathers were defeated on this day, you will also be followed and attacked everywhere. You will be defeated the same as your grandfathers were," says Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban. "Our message to the Afghan government is that ... they cannot stop the willing [individuals] of the Afghan nation from attacking anywhere."
In July, international forces transitioned security responsibility for seven areas of Afghanistan, including all of Kabul province expect for Surboi district, to the Afghan Army and police. Afghan security forces have been responsible for security in the city of Kabul since 2008, but a large contingent of British, American, and other international soldiers responded to Friday’s attack to assist them. New Zealand’s Special Forces soldiers may have also been involved in the operation and there are reports that the international killed in the attack may have been a New Zealander.
“This attack shows that security forces for Kabul are completely weak and they are unable to strengthen security, especially on Independence Day,” says Maj. Abdul Rahman Shaheed, a member of parliament from Bamiyan province and a former police officer. “It’s a shameful incident for the security forces of Kabul. It means the Taliban is getting stronger and that they have high morale.”
British reaffirm their commitment to Afghanistan
The attack began around 5:30 a.m. when a car bomb detonated at the gate of the British Council, allowing three attackers to enter the building, says Mr. Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman.
The militants engaged in a shoot-out with Afghan and international security forces that lasted well into the afternoon, with one surviving attacker holding out for hours after his fellow militants had been killed. The attackers came from eastern Afghanistan and Kabul, according to the Taliban. All of them died in the attack.
At least 12 people were injured in addition to the nine security forces killed, but British authorities said that “all British nationals affected are now safe” and no British citizens were hurt.
“This attack, against people working to help build a better future for Afghanistan, will not lessen the UK’s resolve to support the Afghan people,” said Alistair Burt, the United Kingdom's minister for the Middle East, in an official statement.
The British Council in Kabul specializes primarily in providing education and development services.
NATO should focus on quality, not quantity of Afghans trained
The last major attack inside Kabul occurred on June 28 when insurgents stormed the Intercontinental Hotel, one of the most secure buildings in the capital, killing at least 10 people. The stand-off ended when NATO helicopters fired at the attackers on the roof of the hotel.
“After 10 years of international forces in Afghanistan this is very unusual. Why is it that despite the presence of more than 100,000 international forces and the Afghan Army and police, the armed opposition in Afghanistan and their supporters are able to do anything they want, anywhere they want,” says Baryalai Hakimi, head of the law and political science department at the National Center for Policy Research at Kabul University.
While Friday’s attack is unlikely to affect future transition plans, Mr. Hakimi warns that NATO must focus not only on the number of Afghan police and soldiers trained but on increasing the capabilities of each individual.
“Now the international forces are insisting on training a high number of Afghan Army and police, but they are focusing on quantity, not quality," he says. "It is important for them to focus on quality.”
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