The common viewpoint spreading through Afghanistan is that the United States is no longer willing to help, and that the Taliban is anxiously anticipating the withdrawal of foreigners to take over. At the Serena Hotel in Kabul, a gunfight broke out between police and four teenage assailants who hid pistols in their socks to avoid security. The area was the site of similar violence in 2008 that left several dead and the Taliban claiming credit, and this recent attack is arriving with an escalating wave of opportunism by the enemy, with militants raiding a police station in Jalalabad just hours before, killing 11 and causing locals to view this as preemption by insurgents to disrupt the presidential election next month.
Before dawn on Thursday in Jalalabad, a suicide car-bomb was triggered and is believed to be a message to the Nangarhar provincial governor Attaullah Ludin, whose home is located nearby. While six gunmen attacked a police station, two more bombs went off in the area hidden in vegetable carts and rickshaws. Casualties include a city-district police chief, and a spokesman for the Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahid, has announced their involvement. The seven attackers are dead, but with the April 5 election fast approaching, the test of whether local police can cope with the vacuum left by receding U.S. troops is in question.
Though provincial elections will commence as well, President Hamid Karzai is not constitutionally allowed to seek a third term, and the new leader of Afghanistan will have to run the country for five years as allied forces move forward with their withdrawal by early 2015. Karzai has tried to stop the United States from leaving, refusing to agree to a bilateral security deal, and has openly denounced the release of prisoners being held by foreign troops. British Embassy spokesman Major Tim James said that the recently release of 77 detainees was “an Afghan decision” and that the judicial system would have to handle the blowback, even though the U.S. military stated that many of the militants were connected to acts of terrorism that had killed coalition soldiers, including local security and civilians.
With the elections drawing closer, the Taliban’s aggression is escalating. On March 2 in Kabul, armed men staged a kidnapping of elders in the eastern part of Afghanistan from districts such as Goshta and Lalpur, and a car bomb mistakenly exploded in the Logar province in a separate incident, leaving nine enemy combatants dead as well as four civilians, two women and two children.
In Kandahar on March 3, a dozen insurgents escaped from the Sarposa prison through faulty paperwork that listed the men as scheduled for release, allowing them to simply walk out with Taliban commander Mullah Dad Mohammad Munib, a specialist in suicide attacks and assassinations. This is the fourth time in a decade that the prison was humiliated, the last instance being in 2011 when 476 prisoners tunneled their way out, and in 2008, the Taliban assaulted the prison after a suicide bomber drove an explosive truck through the gate and 30 terrorists stormed inside, killing 15 guards and setting 1200 prisoners loose.
On March 13, four election coordinators were taken hostage without demand for ransom, but the European Union has promised to observe the election with 16 experts from international sources and 13 different countries to help tally the votes to avoid fraud. With Karzai’s election rumored to have been rigged, the question is more about Obama’s rhetoric concerning withdrawal, which is clearly emboldening the insurgents to risk escalating the level of violence. With most civilians in Afghanistan saying that the Taliban controls much of the countryside and is waiting for the Americans to leave, having defeated yet another empire, time will tell whether or not US foreign policy is aware of the danger of claiming defeat.
By Elijah Stephens