NATO has reported a Taliban assault upon the airfield of an American base in Jalalabad, in eastern Afghanistan. The attack involved a coordinated truck-bomb strike on each of the airfield’s four entry points, with explosions powerful enough to shatter windows at a kilometer’s distance. In the twenty-minute firefight, at least three Taliban fighters breached the inside of the base and fought till cut down by NATO forces. Despite the fighting, only one NATO soldier, an Afghan guard was killed. There were no Taliban survivors of the assault. Combat was only brought to a close when NATO introduced helicopter gunships into the fray.
This is not the first time the Taliban have attacked the airfield, having launched another one just this past April. That assault was attempted by four jihadists with explosives hidden beneath burqas. Taliban forces also attacked the main Jalalabad airport this past February 27, killing nine and wounding ten using a car bomb.
Jalabad is the capitol of Nangarhar province, one of the regions where the insurgents have proved especially tenacious. They hare able to escape to bordering Pakistan when pressed, then return nearly at their leisure.
The Obama Administration has announced a timetable by which the 130,000 current NATO forces, overwhelmingly American, would be withdrawn by 2014, leaving a remnant force to continue training Afghan troops. This timetable has faced criticism from those, chiefly Republicans, who object to giving the enemy a firm deadline and therefore hope to seize Afghanistan after waiting out NATO. Such criticism has been muted by the American domestic environment, war-weary from a conflict now in its twelfth year.
The war effort has been further complicated by uncertain relations with the democratically-elected Kharzai regime, allied with NATO but, in the eyes of many, saddling its troops with excessively restricted rules of engagement and even, periodically, talk of working out a deal with the Taliban. Finally, there is the nation-wide plague of “green-on-blue” attacks by Taliban who managed to infiltrate into the Afghani forces. In 2012 these attacks accounted for 45 coalition deaths, accounting for 16% of all fatalities in country. This violence taken together is a show of strength on the part of the Taliban, which is clearly not content simply to wait out the American departure.
Attacks such as this imperil much of the good work done by the West. This includes not only democracy itself, but programs to educate girls, Programs such as the Educational and Vocational Training Center for Girls, founded in 2003 and since turned over to the Jalabad community, educate girls and provide an opportunity for female teachers to work. Jalalabad, like most urban centers in Afghanistan, now offers opportunities for girls’ education from elementary school through college.
The Taliban regime that ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001 forbade the education of girls over ten years old as part of its interpretation of Sharia law, and incidents ranging from attacks on schools to scarring girls’ faces with acid have occurred during the war years. In 2011, the Afghan Education Minister claimed that the Taliban had come to accept the education of girls, but it remains an open question whether this was merely more Kharzai Administration accomodation toward the Taliban, or perhaps simply an effort by the group to enhance its popularity with the public while it remains on the outside of power, fighting its way in.
That fight seems to have taken another step forward in Jalalabad.