A team of militants launched a spectacular assault at the heart of the Afghan government Monday, with two men detonating suicide bombs and the rest fighting to the death only 50 yards from the gates of the presidential palace.
The attacks, the latest in a series targeting the Afghan capital, paralyzed the city for hours, as hundreds of Afghan commandos converged and opened fire. The battle unfolded in the middle of Pashtunistan Square, a traffic circle that holds the palace of President Hamid Karzai, the Ministry of Justice and the Central Bank, the target of the attack.
As the gun battle raged, another suicide bomber — this one driving an ambulance — struck a traffic circle a half-mile away, sending a second mass of bystanders fleeing in terror.
Five hours after the attack began, gunfire was still echoing through the downtown, as commandos searched for holdouts in a nearby office building. Afghan officials said that three soldiers and two civilians — including one child — were killed, and at least 71 people were wounded. The Faroshga market, one of the city’s most popular shopping malls, lay in ruins, shattered and burning and belching black smoke. [continued…]
The Afghan government will soon unveil a major new plan offering jobs, security, education and other social benefits to Taliban followers who defect, according to the spokesman for President Hamid Karzai.
The plan, in the final stages of preparation, will go beyond the government’s previous offers to the Taliban, Waheed Omer, the spokesman, said at a news conference on Sunday. “The mistakes we have committed before have been considered in developing this new plan,” he said. “We have not done enough.”
The reconciliation and reintegration plan is aimed at luring large numbers of the Taliban’s followers, estimated by NATO officials at 25,000 to 30,000 active fighters, to change sides, and has qualified support from American officials. Afghan officials are hoping to finance the plan through pledges from the international community to be made at a London conference on Afghanistan planned for Jan. 28.
Even if such a plan wins international support, serious questions remain about Afghanistan’s ability to carry it out, especially without a functioning national government, a prospect that remained distant on Sunday. [continued…]