Kabul bombings spoil Obama's trip to Afghanistan


Afghanistan's security forces stand guard near the building where armed attackers exchanged fire with security forces in Kabul on September 13, 2011. Taliban gunmen with suicide bombs and heavy weaponry launched coordinated attacks in Kabul targeting NATO's headquarters and the US embassy, killing at least six people.



Here's what President Barack Obama said in Kabul on Tuesday:

"But over the last three years, the tide has turned. We broke the Taliban’s momentum. We’ve built strong Afghan Security Forces. We devastated al Qaeda’s leadership, taking out over 20 of their top 30 leaders. And one year ago, from a base here in Afghanistan, our troops launched the operation that killed Osama bin Laden. The goal that I set – to defeat al Qaeda, and deny it a chance to rebuild – is within reach."

After Obama left the country today, it took only two hours for attackers to shatter his optimism.

A group of suicide bombers stormed the so-called Green Zone, a heavily-guarded residential compound popular with foreigners, killing at least eight Afghans and wounding dozens of others. The attackers detonated a car bomb outside the compound's gates and then made their way inside.

For years US officials have talked up the improvements to Afghanistan's security and the increasing effectiveness of the Afghan security forces. But for anyone on the ground in Afghanistan, such statements ring hollow.

GlobalPost correspondent Chris Sands reported today that in Kapisa Province, which strategically neighbors Kabul, a bad security situation is only getting worse. The Taliban in this region, residents told Sands, openly walk in the markets.

"The government does not have control there. I am the representative of the people and I cannot go without employing very heavy security," Al Haj Khoja Ghulam Mohammed Zamaray, the deputy leader of the provincial council, told Sands.

Kabul itself has seen some of the worst violence since the war began. Each attack on the capital contradicts official claims of increased security.

In mid-April, the Taliban-aligned Haqqani Network laid siege to Kabul for nearly 20 hours before, with the help of NATO, Afghan forces finally managed to subdue them.

GlobalPost correspondent Jean MacKenzie wrote at the time:

"In nearly all serious attacks in Kabul, NATO has had to step in. Last September, when a handful of attackers held the capital hostage for 20 hours, the [Afghan security forces] were clearly not up to the task. The crisis ended only when a NATO soldier went into the unfinished building where the final few attackers had holed up and threw a grenade at them."

Another example from MacKenzie:

"In June, 2011, when Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel was under attack, NATO sent in choppers to end a five-hour standoff. The [Afghan security forces] would not fight the attackers, according to numerous accounts."

Kabul has had a very bad couple years. Dozens of spectcular attacks have killed hundreds of people, including foreign soldiers and civilians.

But through it all, US officials have managed to hold firm on the same line: Things are getting better.

More from Obama last night:

"Still, there will be difficult days ahead. The enormous sacrifices of our men and women are not over. But tonight, I’d like to tell you how we will complete our mission and end the war in Afghanistan. First, we have begun a transition to Afghan responsibility for security."

The governor of Kapisa, Mehrabuddin Safi, is looking forward to such a transition.

Safi told GlobalPost's Sands that he has only about 1,000 police and roughly 1,200 Afghan soldiers to protect a population of 700,000. He said he is confident, however, that with greater manpower, and improved training and equipment, he would be able to maintain security.

“This is our country, this is our province,” he said. “We have to look after it.”

From Sands:

"Only time will tell if Safi's optimism is misplaced, but the omens are not good."

The same could be said about Obama's optimism.