A team of militants launched a spectacular assault at the heart of the Afghan government on 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 attack 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 where the palace of President Hamid Karzai, the Ministry of Justice and the Central Bank, the target of the attack, are located.
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. Afghan officials said that three soldiers and two civilians — including a child — were killed, and at least 71 people were wounded.
The assault was the latest in a series of audacious operations by insurgents meant to shatter the calm of the Afghan capital. The Taliban are a mostly rural phenomenon in a mostly rural country; the overwhelming majority of United States troops are deployed in small outposts in the countryside. On most days, the war does not reach the urban centers.
But increasingly the Taliban are bringing the fight into the cities, further demoralizing Afghans and lending to the impression that virtually no part of the country is safe from the group’s penetration. [continued…]
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Monday that there could be a surge of Taliban followers willing to reintegrate with the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai, but that for now an Afghan government reconciliation with the Taliban leadership was unlikely.
Mr. Gates, who made his comments on his plane en route to India, was reacting to the announcement on Sunday of a major new Afghan initiative to offer jobs, security, education and other social benefits to Taliban followers who defect. The plan is in the final stages of preparation and has qualified support from American officials, who see luring large numbers of Taliban supporters to change sides as critical to success in Afghanistan.
But Mr. Gates, like other American officials, effectively ruled out reconciliation with the Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar. Mr. Karzai has offered repeatedly to talk directly with Mullah Omar, with little result, but Afghan officials are now considering removing his name from the United Nations list of terrorists. Those placed on the list are barred from international travel and their bank accounts can be frozen. [continued…]