Will the Afghan attack affect Trump's looming troops decision?



June 01, 2017 08:34:15

Kabul is reeling after one of the deadliest attacks in the 16-year Afghanistan intervention, and still grappling with key unanswered questions. Who did it? Why? Will it change anything?

Even for a nation as hardened to violence as Afghanistan, the horror and scale of human suffering yesterday was shocking.

With at least 80 dead (still considered likely to rise) and 460 wounded, the toll is immense.

Police do know that a water tanker, laden with explosives, was detonated close to the German embassy, several other diplomatic missions, a school, and domestic and foreign media outlets.

But they don’t know which — or indeed if any — of those institutions were the target, nor who was responsible.

Both of those things — the bomber’s ability to drive his arsenal in undetected, and the lack of intelligence — underscore the Afghan security services’ continuing failures, after 16 years of western intervention.

Of the usual culprits, the Taliban have denied responsibility and the Islamic State group has said nothing.

Afghanistan’s Intelligence service, the NDS, is blaming the Taliban-aligned Haqqani network, a terrorist organisation with links in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Afghan officials believe it carried out the attack with the help of Pakistani intelligence.

But that might be a bit too convenient, suspects Michael Kugelman, an Afghanistan specialist at think tank the Wilson Centre.

“If you put the blame on the Haqqani network and you suggest that Pakistani intelligence was involved, it will make you look less bad,” he said.

“This was an intelligence failure.”

Will America send in the troops?

There are two things being keenly watched in Kabul these days; an imminent decision from US President Donald Trump on troop numbers, and secondly, progress in the ‘Kabul process’ peace plan, designed to bring the Taliban and other militant groups into negotiations.

American foreign policy expert Michael O’Hanlon, however, said attacks like yesterday’s would have little bearing.

“On the one hand, they remind us that the mission isn’t going great,” he said.

“On the other, they remind us of the monsters we are up against, and the imperative of not losing.”

Mr Kugelman believes that strengthens the case of Donald Trump’s advisers working to convince the President that boosting troop numbers by 3,000 to 5,000 can end the stalemate.

But he also said it’s not the whole solution.

“This attack will make even more clear to those that already support the idea of reconciliation, that we really need to double down on that path,” he said.

“It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to end this war militarily.”

Former American State Department special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Dan Feldman agreed the Taliban have previously shown a willingness to talk, citing the ultimately successful negotiation for captured US soldier Bowe Berghdal.

“In the experience of Sergeant Berghdal’s release — [there was] the effort to set up an office in Doha — so that there was an address when we came knocking,” he said, speaking at a forum in Washington DC.

“There has to be a hard discussion, what is Afghanistan going to put on the table, what is the US going to put on the table?”

It could prove a poignant question, with America’s longest ever war now in the hands of an unorthodox President, one who relishes deal-making as much as he does winning.






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