By Zhou Rong Source: CGTN Published: 2018-1-28
On Saturday, an explosives-laden vehicle blew up on a busy city in the Afghan capital, Kabul, in what is believed to be the deadliest blast in recent years in the country.
A suicide bomber disguised as an emergency responder killed at least 103 people and wounded 235 others. The attacker was driving an ambulance, and managed to cross a security checkpoint in central Kabul, passing through a second one by telling police officers he was escorting a patient to a nearby hospital and detonating the car shortly after.
The blast occurred at the so-called "Chicken Street" in Kabul, a popular destination for foreigners. It is located near the Indian embassy and the capital’s Sadarat Square. It is also about a mile away from the US embassy, NATO’s Resolute Support headquarters, and the offices of the European Union and the High Peace Council, along with a number of foreign embassies and police headquarters.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack and said the suicide bombing targeted a building used by the Interior Ministry and High Peace Council, a body set up in 2010 to negotiate ironically with insurgents.
The US State Department said a number of US nationals were killed and injured in the attack. The assault came just a week after Taliban militants attacked the Intercontinental Hotel during a 12-hour standoff with Afghan security forces, leaving 22 people dead, including 14 foreigners. It was the third successful attack in a week targeting high-security areas in the city.
The sharp rise in deadly violent attacks is actually linked to recent increases in US military deployments in the country.
Afghan security forces have struggled to fight the Taliban since the US and NATO formally ended their combat mission in 2014. But the security situation is in a state of constant deterioration. In 2017, an estimated 10,000 security forces in the country were killed and over 16,000 others wounded by the Taliban, the primary opposition faction in the embattled nation.
What does Kabul`s latest deadly attack tell the international society?
Firstly, US President Donald Trump has continued to send thousands of US troops to Afghanistan and is envisioning shifting away from a "time-based" approach to one that more explicitly links US assistance to concrete results from the Afghan government. After a recent visit to Afghanistan, the US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said the aggressive policy was working and that peace talks were closer than ever. The United States has stepped up its assistance to Afghan security forces and recently increased airstrikes against the Taliban and other militants with the aim of breaking a stalemate and forcing the insurgents to the negotiating table.
But the Taliban has dismissed suggestions that it has been weakened by the new strategy, and the latest attacks demonstrate the group`s capacity to mount deadly, high-profile attacks remains undiminished. The latest attack will add more pressure on President Ashraf Ghani and his US ally, which has expressed growing confidence that a more aggressive military strategy could drive Taliban insurgents away from major provincial centers. The Trump administration`s strategy of sending more troops to Afghanistan and increasing airstrikes there is clearly not working.
While Trump imposed sanctions against four Taliban and two Haqqani network leaders who have been involved in attacks on coalition troops, smuggling of individuals, or financing terrorist groups, a spokesperson for the interior ministry of Afghanistan blamed the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network, which has been behind many of the biggest attacks on urban targets in Afghanistan. It is a clear impasse: the Taliban group is not going to surrender or give up, and militants are seeking to take more areas and territories.
Secondly, the US and Afghan governments are facing two major enemies, not just one. The more dangerous is the ISIL group, which was involved in at least 10 fatal attacks in Afghanistan last year. Saturday`s attack happened just days after the terrorist group killed at least three people at the office of Save the Children in Jalalabad. That assault had come a few hours after a security alert was issued in the morning warning that ISIL was planning "to conduct aggressive attacks" on supermarkets, shops and hotels frequented by foreigners. In the near future, the threat to Kabul`s security may come from two directions, the Taliban and ISIL.
Thirdly, Taliban fighters are changing the way they attack. A suicide bomber filling an ambulance with explosives and detonating them upon arriving at a police checkpoint is a scenario that hasn`t happened before.
Ambulances are rarely checked in the city. Saturday is a working day in Afghanistan and the streets were full when the blast went off at around lunchtime in a bustling part of the city near a number of foreign embassies and government buildings. It is becoming more and more apparent that almost anywhere in Kabul could be a target of the Taliban. There is no restricted area for them.
Fourthly, the Taliban group usually begins its offensive after winter, but militants have started their assault earlier in response to Washington`s new Afghanistan strategy. They want to show they are far from being defeated. Now the Pentagon is planning to send to Afghanistan around 1,000 more combat "advisers," a large number of drones and other types of weaponry by the end of January to bolster efforts against the Taliban and ISIL terrorist groups. But it is certain that this strategy will not work again. Increasing the number of foreign troops in Afghanistan will not be effective unless leaders pursue the objective of enhancing security and establishing stability in the entire region, as well as eliminating the Taliban and ISIL.
Zhou Rong is a senior fellow of Chongyang Insitute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.