The fifth anniversary of September 11 finds Afghanistan in a deepening crisis. Security is deteriorating in most parts of the country, due to Taliban insurgency and general lawlessness. Economic development is largely stalled in the south and moving very slowly in the north. Kabul is mired in corruption and layer upon layer of dysfunctional bureaucracy. Bribery is so rampant that even sections of the government have to bribe each other to get simple tasks accomplished.
Most disturbing is the deteriorating security environment, which was punctuated by a massive suicide car bomb that ripped into a US convoy on September 8, a mere 300 yards from the US Embassy and just in front of the main monument honoring the Mujahadeen leader Ahmed Shah Massoud, who was killed by al Qaida two days before the attack on the World Trade Center in New York. The suicide attack killed two US soldiers, destroying their vehicle and sixteen Afghan civilians. Dozens more were wounded.
“Now everyone is very sad in Kabul,” said a young man who lives near where the suicide bomb struck. “Many people were injured. Even my brother called from Belgium, he was so worried.”
Two days later the Taliban killed the governor of the relatively stable, eastern province of Paktia with another suicide bomb. The victim, Governor Abdul Hakim Taniwal, was an Afghan ex-pat, a former sociologist who gave up a comfortable life in Australia to help reconstruct his country. His murder was the forty-eighth suicide bombing this year. Today, at his funeral, another bomb claimed at least five more lives.
In the week leading up to the 9/11 anniversary several rockets hit central Kabul and the airport and one NATO solider was killed by a suicide bomb. At least one other IED was discovered before detonation. And now the US military has announced that they believe a “suicide cell” is operating inside the capital–so sealing Kabul’s four main entrance points might not prevent further attacks.
In the south, British-led NATO forces are engaged in an all-out fight against Taliban guerrillas, in the grandly named Operation Medusa. Since early August NATO forces (know locally under the acronym ISAF) have had twenty-three soliders of various nationalities killed and an undisclosed number wounded. Six ISAF troops have died in the last week alone.
Taliban fighters in southern Zabul province interviewed by The Nation in February explained that their war as a jihad against the corruption of the Kabul government and what they see as oppressive foreign troops who do not respect Islam or Pashtun culture.
The British military claims to be super-adroit at handling restive natives, but many accounts portray the British-led counterinsurgency in the south as badly botched. On September 9 and 10, NATO forces used artillery and close air support to kill ninety-four insurgents one day and ninety-two the next, describing the second battle among villages and orchards as a “Taliban counter-attack.”