In a dramatic, 18-hour series of coordinated attacks, militants blasted grenades and gunfire at foreign sites in Kabul this week, including NATO headquarters and the U.S. Embassy, while others struck airfields and police stations in Afghanistan’s eastern provinces. The Taliban claimed responsibility, but at least one of the four insurgents captured said he was with the Haqqani network, a militant group linked to al Qaida. U.S. Gen. John Allen, the NATO commander in Afghanistan, joined Afghan President Hamid Karzai in praising Afghan forces for their effectiveness in repulsing the attacks.
Ties between the two allies faced a new strain, however, after the Los Angeles Times published photos this week showing American troops posing in 2010 with body parts of dead Afghan fighters. “These images by no means represent the values or professionalism of the vast majority of U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan today,” said Pentagon spokesman George Little.
This week’s attacks should make the Obama administration rethink its exit plan, said Jeffrey Goldberg in Bloomberg.com. If the Taliban can “penetrate Kabul, which has been advertised as Afghanistan’s safest city,” when 130,000 NATO troops are still in country, then they will surely be able to take it over once foreign troops leave. Yet Obama continues to insist on his “arbitrary timetable” for a total pullout by 2014, starting with 23,000 troops this September. The U.S. risks betraying the Afghan people, and Afghan women in particular, if it simply abandons them again to the barbaric regime it toppled 10 years ago.
These attacks are hardly evidence of a resurgent Taliban, said Mark Thompson in Time.com. In fact, they were “pretty bush league.” Eight Afghan police and three civilians lost their lives, while 36 militants were killed. Still, the “political ramifications could prove far greater.” There’s an eerie parallel here with the Viet Cong’s 1968 Tet offensive, which changed little on the ground but belied “claims of American progress” and turned the American public against the Vietnam War.
This week’s fighting reveals little about whether the U.S. is winning or losing in Afghanistan, said Stephen M. Walt in ForeignPolicy.com. We can’t let it distract us from the “larger strategic issue” Washington faces: “whether trying to win is worth the cost.” On that point, unfortunately, there’s still no easy answer.