Since I was lazy this week and didn’t compile the “5 Things I Learned This Week in Afghanistan,” I’m doing one on the Kabul attacks here in…Kabul. And it’s less what I learned but more what I, as some dude with a blog, want you to know about these events.
Because I love me some Storify, here’s one that rolls up what happened pretty well. Go there. Read it.
That may prompt some to draw comparisons with the 1968 Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War. There are major differences in the scale and length of the events and casualties but the assault may still challenge assertions that America is winning.
Yes, absolutely: an engagement that resulted in minimal casualties, was responded to quickly by the ANSF, and ended up accomplishing virtually none of its tactical goals is just…like…Tet.
Anyone who draws those kinds of comparisons probably has a whole library of pop up books and worry they might fall off the edge of the world.
Otherwise that article is a pretty decent piece of reporting.
Once you’re done reading, come back and let me explain it all for you, so when you huddle around your water cooler and talk about Afghanistan for like, seconds, you can sound just that much smarter.
Then you can worry about whether Kim and Kanye is “for really realsies.”
1. This was a success for the ANSF.
ANSF responded quickly and professionally, and did what they’ve been trained to do, and hopefully we’ll hear some stories of their bravery in the coming days instead of just the usual speculative drivel about the future of Afghanistan.
You’re liable to hear a lot of pundits/experts/eyewitnesses going on about how this ‘siege’ lasted for 16 hours. Just like the events of September 2011, the attackers very quickly lost whatever advantage they had, and ended up holed up in Parliament and in a half-completed building in the Wazir-Akbar-Khan neighborhood.
Just like the activities in September, at some point the attackers are all cut off, they’re not shooting at anyone except the forces engaged in the operation, and rushing into that building is going to get more people hurt/killed than is necessary. Taking one’s time makes a lot of sense: not sexy, but still effective.
Regardless of how many ISAF personnel were involved in the operation (and there were several), the lead, and eventual ‘win’ (if anyone really wins in these situations) goes to the ANSF, particularly their commando forces.
2. This was not an independent ANSF success.
Which may seem to be a contradiction of the previous statement, but what needs to be understood here is that the ANSF, while achieving greater levels of capability, are not yet ready to conduct any operations completely independently of ISAF support.
Specifically in this case, seven strafing runs were carried out by NATO UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters. These weren’t just observation runs, or providing illumination for the Afghan Special Forces types: full on rounds-on-target close air support.
I may have tweeted my thoughts:
@elsnarkistani ISAF helicopters provided limited air support prior to final assualt
— ISAF (@ISAFmedia) April 16, 2012
@isafmedia Seven gun runs is limited air support? And the last one happened around 0330. Final assault wasn't until hours later.
— Gary Owen (@ElSnarkistani) April 16, 2012
Whether the Afghans could have completed this mission successfully without that air support isn’t clear, but at some point someone made the decision to fly those missions, and whoever that was is not confident that the situation could be resolved without the additional fire support provided by the NATO aerial platforms.
Additionally, ISAF personnel were also on the ground providing fire support and whatever mentoring activities were required to make the mission a success. Again, possible without their presence? That’s unclear, but the point once more is this: someone didn’t think so. So they were called in at that point.
3. Tactically, a Taliban (or whoever) defeat.
Unless their goal was to keep the residents of Kabul awake most of the night, the attackers achieved very little of any actual consequence. The majority of the wounded (at last report) were treated and released by Kabul-area hospitals, and most of the reported dead were from the insurgent side.
So they took over another half-constructed building and kept ANSF occupied for a lot of hours: not that big a deal.
I’ll explain that ‘whoever’ bit later.
4. In the perception war, a Taliban (or whoever) win.
Kabul is supposed to be the most secure city in Afghanistan, and once again, some insurgent group managed to stockpile weapons and supplies in a half-constructed building at the edge of the diplomatic area here in Kabul and light the city up for hours at a time.
If the message is: “We can get you anywhere,” message sent. Just, once they get there, they don’t tend to accomplish much. This speaks to increasing leves of proficiency by the ANSF in their response to the situation, but also to the lack of quality intel/planning to make sure these kinds of events do not happen again.
If the playbook had changed dramatically from the events of September of 2011, then those things happen, but in this case it’s almost identical. So someone’s making it very clear that the government of Afghanistan really can’t stop them from doing what they want to do.
Also, secondary to the Kabul discussion is the fact that multiple attacks occurred yesterday in Afghanistan. According to any reports, they all ended pretty much the same way, with the insurgents not doing nearly the damage they’d hoped, but this was a well-coordinated attack. Which, is pretty much in direct response to BG Carsten Jacobson (ISAF spokesman) and his comments recently:
“No announcement has been made by the insurgency, but we are looking at what they are doing at the moment. We are looking at this year with very open eyes,” Jacobson told Reuters in an interview.
“They are focusing on attacks on individual posts, on small groups, outposts of soldiers. We haven’t seen any cohesive action,” he said late on Monday.
Of course, the insurgency did make an announcement on Sunday, and effective or not, the attacks yesterday were definitely cohesive. Also, last time I checked, Kabul isn’t exactly an “outpost.”
5. We really want it to be the Haqqani.
Even though the United States is working to repair relations with Pakistan, it’s in the best interests of ISAF for this to have been done by the Haqqani. Ambassador Crocker certainly thinks so:
He suggested the attacks may be the work of the Haqqani network, rather than the Taliban, saying the Taliban did not have the capacity to carry them out.
This is important for three reasons:
- If it’s the Haqqani that pulled all this together, it means that ISAF/ANSF have been successful in diminishing the capacity of the Taliban, and therefore justifies all the efforts and money spent in Afghanistan
- If it’s the Haqqani, that keeps the options open for the post-2014 Afghanistan of which Director Petraeus dreams: a drone and SOF base to keep the pressure on the border regions, dealing with the heart of Al Qaeda/Haqqani/TTP/QST et al.
- If it’s the Haqqani, then that continues to perpetuate the idea that Afghan (read: Karzai) government is doing all it can to make this a better world for all of us…it’s those pesky Pakistani terrorists, not real Afghans, causing all the ruckus.
So there you go: the definitive be-all end-all five talking points on today. OK, so there’s probably a lot more to cover, but I’m tired. It was noisy last night.
I am so calling the cops on the neighbors next time.