Insurgents Strike in Heart of Kabul, Testing Readiness of Afghan Troops

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Lisa Mullins: I'm Lisa Mullins and this is "The World", a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI, and WGBH in Boston. A series of coordinated militant attacks in Afghanistan finally ended today, eighteen hours after they began. In Kabul, the militants targeted a district that houses embassies, NATO headquarters, and the Afghan parliament. More than 50 people were killed including at least 36 insurgents. US officials say the attacks were the work of the Haqqani Network. That's a militant group that ties to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Shafiullah Afghan is a former Afghan police official who is based in Kandahar. He says that once the attacks began, he saw Kabul residents quickly take shelter indoors.

Shafiullah Afghan: I was in the city, moving in the city, and I was amazed by the people, at how the people just disappeared. A lot of people went to houses to be safe, to be secure. I was just amazed that, in minutes, people just disappeared from the streets.

Mullins: One of the things that seems most disturbing, aside from the fact that this series of attacks went on for eighteen hours, is that it transpired in what's known as kind of the "ring of steel" in Kabul where there are embassies, the presidential palace. How was it that whoever the perpetrators were, and we can talk about that in a minute, were able to have such long access and so such damage?

Afghan: The good thing, as I can mention, is the reaction of the Afghan security forces. They did a very great job with their quick response with this big number of insurgents. It's not easy to stop people like, for example, "suiciders", who are, I mean they're ready to be killed. So it's really easy for them to get to any point they want. They are in groups. If one of them blow up himself, that lets the others to get into the situation. That's how they usually work.

Mullins: Just to interrupt for one second, wouldn't that make them even more able to be apprehended? And this tactic of suicidal attacks is not new to Afghan security forces.

Afghan: Most of the time the Afghan security forces are not at that alert point that every moment you could expect a "suicider".

Mullins: They weren't expecting it.

Afghan: Yeah, you cannot expect that. The most important thing is the intel. We don't have enough intel on that.

Mullins: The intelligence . . .

Afghan: The first thing, yeah?

Mullins: So you say that once the Afghan forces did respond to the attack, they responded well, but they also had help from NATO. There were NATO Blackhawk helicopters that ran seven strafing runs in order to try and dislodge the perpetrators. Could the Afghan forces have been as successful as they were without NATO's help?

Afghan: We started from zero. If it's the police, if it's the army, we started everything from zero. At least it takes fifteen to twenty years, in my experience, to have a well trained police and an Afghan army. So it's not easy to say that they are capable of beating that oppression. They did their best.

Mullins: Well, then I wonder if America's withdrawal from Afghanistan is something that you feel as though Afghanistan is ready for or not. There are ninety thousand US troops there now. Twenty three thousand are supposed to be leaving by the end of September. Do you dread the withdrawal or do you think that Afghan forces will step up when America steps back?

Afghan: That will be not easy. We don't have the professional police. If you have a group of snipers, a very well trained group of snipers within the police headquarters everywhere, they can tackle the situation much better than right now we are. We don't have professional Criminal Investigation Department guys. The police can't [??] the police force that we have. They are not professional that they can collect evidence. We are lacking still on that side.

Mullins: You have what sounds to be a good job. You get around in Afghanistan, you have a lot of contacts. It would seem obvious that you would want to stay, but you're doing it against a backdrop that is extraordinarily dangerous and daunting and it doesn't sound like you have a lot of confidence that things are going to get better anytime soon. How come you do stay there?

Afghan: If I compare my country back to the time of Taliban before 2002 and today, there has been big changes. For example, you have, like, six million children going to schools, you have universities, like in Kandahar city I was never expecting girls going to university. Now, girls are going to universities, they are attending online courses. That's the kind of stuff that's happening on the positive side that gives me the hope that I am staying in my country and I am looking for a future, that we will have a good future.

Mullins: Nice to talk to you. Shafiullah Afghan who lives in Kabul. He was a former official with the Afghanistan police force. We spoke to him from Kandahar. Thanks a lot.

Afghan: You're welcome.