KABUL, Afghanistan — Multiple explosions again shattered the morning calm of central Kabul Tuesday morning, in a brazen Taliban attack on the palace of Afghan President Hamid Karzai in the heart of the capital.
Afghan security forces killed the attackers, who used fake passes and vehicle badges to enter the highly-secure area but failed to penetrate the palace walls.
In a statement, the Taliban said the targets were both the presidential palace and the Ariana Hotel, which they say is a CIA base in Kabul.
Following a series of recent, similar attacks also in Kabul — including on Kabul International Airport, the Supreme Court, and a prominent NGO compound — today’s fresh militant assault sheds light on the work of Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the National Directorate for Security (NDS).
On June 11, at least 17 people were killed and another 40 injured when a suicide car bomb exploded outside the Afghan Supreme Court in Kabul.
“Our forces are now in the middle of an intelligence war,” said military expert and former Afghan general, Noor ul-Haq Olumi, adding that Afghan intelligence is battling to keep up with the powerful Pakistani spy agency that supports the Taliban.
Afghan lawmakers and security officials say the agency has neither the employees nor the resources it needs to adequately collect information and identify threats before they manifest as armed incursions on Afghan or foreign institutions.
As US and NATO forces prepare to fully withdraw troops from Afghanistan next year, ordinary Afghans are worried that their national security services are not up to the job of keeping them safe.
“It seems we might have a dark age again after the foreigners leave,” said 35-year-old Saleema Rezaee, an employee at the education ministry in Kabul. “I do not think Afghan security forces or intelligence will do a good job for us.”
A high-level NDS source, but who spoke on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that the agency was grappling with equipment, cash, and manpower shortages, but would not elaborate further.
Olumi said there are simply not operatives to be everywhere all of the time, particularly in a vast and mountainous country like Afghanistan. He says he believes foreign governments will boost Afghanistan’s intelligence operations as they move to withdraw.
But according to a US defense department report released to Congress in 2008, Afghanistan’s intelligence agencies — including the NDS, defense and interior ministries — rarely coordinate intelligence gathering operations and regularly fail to share information, inadequacies the report blames partly on “disjointed” US government and international support efforts.
The NDS, whose command structure dates back to the Soviet era, is said to employ tens of thousands of Afghans, but its annual budget is not made public. The agency came under fire in 2011, after a United Nations report revealed widespread torture in NDS prisons across the country.
In January, insurgents claimed a car bomb attack on the NDS headquarters in Kabul, and which wounded NDS chief Assadullah Khalid.
“It is really hard to stop them, since these are guerilla attacks,” Wagma Sapai, an Afghan lawmaker and member of the parliament’s internal security commission, said of the recent attacks in Kabul.
Insurgents will often take cover in an abandoned building or enter Kabul dressed like Afghan women, eyewitnesses have said. They carry small weapons and carry-out commando-style attacks.
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Sapai, too, concedes the agency is without adequate supplies, despite being equipped by the western armies training Afghan security forces.
“I do not need support from ISAF or any other organization in conducting operations,” said Kabul’s deputy chief of police, Gen. Mohammad Dawood Amin. ISAF refers to the International Security Assistance Force, or coalition of NATO and other member nations.
“I just need accurate intelligence reports, so I can go and arrest or kill the enemy,” he said.
When the Taliban announced earlier this month it had opened an office in Doha, Qatar as a diplomatic mission that would host talks with US officials, some were shocked but others hoped would mean an end to attacks.
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Kabul residents are growing increasingly wary of the ongoing violence, which not only kills their fellow citizens but also damages homes and shops and paralyzes life.
“Yesterday I had to close my shop, but tomorrow I might get killed, said 38-year-old Qurban Ali, an ice cream seller near the location of the attack on the Supreme Court earlier this month. Seventeen people were killed and 39 civilians in the area were injured.
“Our government is well-aware of all of these challenges,” he said. “Why aren’t they really trying to stop it?”
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid declined to comment for this story.