Afghans protest inaction after Taliban attack

The Taliban attack on a military base on the border to Pakistan raises some questions. How could the attackers surprise the Afghan soldiers and why wasn’t there any NATO air support?

Soldiers stand next to coffins covered with the Afghan flag (Foto: Hussain Sirat/DW)

It was the most deadly Taliban attack on the Afghan army since 2010. Last Sunday (23.02.2014), 21 soldiers were killed during an attack on a military base in Kunar province close to the Pakistani border.

“The Taliban attacked us at 3 o’clock in the morning. It seemed that the Taliban had contacts inside the base. They were able to conduct a surprise attack on the soldiers while they were sleeping because only a few guards were responsible for security. Eight soldiers are missing; otehrs were able to flee,” said Shujaul Mulk Dshalala, the governor of Kunar province, in an interview with DW. All Afghan forces were now searching for the missing troops, he added.

Hundreds of people demonstrated in major Afghan cities to show their solidarity with the military. At the same time, they expressed massive criticism of the government. “Karzai should not let this happen,” was the tenor of the demonstrations.

Authorities asleep

Rumors have circulated that the Afghan intelligence service had information about Taliban contacts to the military base weeks ago, but failed to act. “These are actions of gross negligence. The local intelligence service authorities have forwarded the information to the defense ministry, but they didn’t take it seriously,” said Afghan intelligence expert Jawid Kohestani in an interview with DW. The Afghan defense ministry has to act, he said. There needs to be better coordination, especially when activities in the provinces are most threatened by attacks, he stressed.

Proxy war with Pakistan

The Afghan defense ministry acted on Tuesday (25.02.2014) with the dismissal of nine officers. And they have admitted that the intelligence service acted too late. However, the Pakistani intelligence service has been accused of being the mastermind behind the attack.

General Daulat Wasiri said in an interview with DW that there was evidence that the attack was planned outside of Afghanistan and that the attackers came across the border from Pakistan. “There is a war of intelligence services in Afghanistan,” he said. “The attackers are financially supported by the Pakistani intelligence service and members of al Qaeda. There are Chechens, Arabs and Uzbeks among them,” said Wasiri. That’s “no secret and everybody knows it,” he said.

Just a few days ago, the Pakistani government announced that 23 paramilitary soldiers were killed on Afghan soil. But that is not true, according to Jawed Kohestini, who said that the Pakistani intelligence service was only trying to justify its operations in the border area. Pakistan has been waging a proxy war in Afghanistan for the last 35 years, he said.

“That is the case with today’s Kabul government and that was the case with the Taliban and with the Mujahideen government. We are the victims of Pakistan’s support for the Taliban. Pakistan aims for instability in its neighboring country and the Karzai government is not able to oppose the threat,” according to Kohestani.

Soldier carry a coffin covered with an Afhgan flag Foto: Hussain Sirat/DW)

The Afghan military accuses Pakistan of being the mastermind behind the attacks

Uncertainty about air support

Karzai sharply criticized NATO because of the lack of air support for Afghan troops. But, according to media reports, Karzai last year banned Afghan troops from asking NATO for air support.

This is not correct, according to Wasiri. “The president has never ordered that Afghan troops not be allowed to ask for air support,” Wasiri said in an interview with DW. At the most, he ordered not to ask for air support if there is the danger of too many civilian casualties. In the present case there was NATO air support requested, but it arrived too late, he said. According to the official account, the battle between the attackers and the soldiers lasted for more than two hours. Experts seriously doubt that air support could not have reached them in time.

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