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Kabul ‘Still on Edge’ After 18-Hour Assault by Militants

April 16, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said no tactical gains were made by militants' attacks in Kabul, which he said were "done for symbolic purposes." Jeffrey Brown and The Associated Press' Patrick Quinn discuss the situation in Kabul, security in other areas of Afghanistan plus how the militants pulled off the attacks.

JEFFREY BROWN: Earlier this evening, past midnight in Kabul, I spoke with Patrick Quinn, bureau chief for the Associated Press.

Patrick Quinn, welcome.

So what’s the situation there now? Have things quieted down, or is the city still on edge?

PATRICK QUINN, Associated Press: Well, good morning from Kabul.

Things have quieted down. They have managed to kill the last insurgents who were holed up in a couple of buildings in downtown. The city, of course, is still on edge. U.S. forces here, diplomats, non-governmental organizations are all in a state of lockdown.

The population is a bit jittery. This attack didn’t accomplish much, but it did scare the Afghan population here in the capital.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, in terms of who — who did it, who carried this out, we heard Secretary Panetta refer to the Haqqani Network. But also today, I saw a Taliban spokesman saying that his group had rehearsed this, planned this for several months. What is known?

PATRICK QUINN: Well, let’s not confuse the two.

The Taliban and the Haqqanis are one and the same thing. The Haqqani Network sometimes works autonomously. But they do swear allegiance to Mullah Omar. The Haqqanis have never claimed responsibility for an attack. The Taliban always claims responsibility for those attacks. The two work together. They’re separate, but they work together.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, the Haqqanis, of course, have often been tied to Pakistan, to Pakistan’s intelligence forces. Are there any talk — is there any talk about a link now?

PATRICK QUINN: Well, look, the Haqqani Network operates and is based in the Pakistani tribal areas, which are located on Afghanistan’s eastern borders.

These tribal areas are often lawless. They are in Pakistan. The United States has often asked the Pakistani government and the Pakistani army to intervene to stop the activity of the Haqqani Network, and also the infiltration of Taliban fighters and Haqqani operatives into Afghanistan from Pakistan. So far, that has not been successful. U.S.-Pakistani relations are not very good right now.

They haven’t been good since a cross-border incident which resulted in about two dozen Pakistani deaths. Things are being patched up slowly. We’ve had some headway. I don’t know how this is going to affect our relationship. It might impact it. It might not.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, President Karzai pointed to intelligence failures for his own government and for NATO. What did he mean? What’s the thinking there about whether or how much was known about something coming?

PATRICK QUINN: Well, you know, it’s pretty obvious. The Taliban have been saying for months that they’re going to have a spring offensive. NATO, the United States has been saying for months that they’re expecting a spring offensive from the Taliban.

Today, the Taliban said that this is a first step. This is the opening shot in their spring campaign. I’m not sure exactly why Karzai, President Karzai, is saying there is some kind of an intelligence failure. The Taliban have been saying for quite a while that, that we’re going to have a spring offensive, just as the United States and the NATO allies and other coalition forces here have said that they’re going to have their own spring and summer campaign against the insurgency and the Taliban.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, as to the attack itself, how were the insurgents able, first, to get into the city and to get into that couple of strongholds, and then, second, to hold on for so long?

PATRICK QUINN: Well, I mean, it’s not that difficult to slip into Kabul.

None of them had heavy weaponry. We’re talking about suicide vests, which are easily concealed. We’re talking about rocket-propelled grenades. We’re e talking about small-arms, AK-47s. Kabul falls under the responsibility of the Afghan national security forces. It is not under the responsibility of ISAF, of NATO or the United States.

They managed to infiltrate. They got into these locations. Did they do anything? They didn’t do much. No one was killed at any of those locations. They didn’t manage to breach any of those locations. However, it did take 18 hours for Afghan security forces to stop them. It goes to show that a very committed insurgent with a plan is very difficult to stop.

JEFFREY BROWN: And then, of course, we have Afghan and American officials, though, praising the Afghan security forces. This, of course, is a — remains a very sensitive issue. But today they were saying those forces performed well?

PATRICK QUINN: Well, of course they’re praising the Afghan national security forces. We have spent billions and billions of dollars training these Afghan national security forces to gradually take over security from NATO and the international community, not only in Kabul, but the rest of the country.

So was it Afghan national security forces that acted well and acted quickly? Yes. They acted well and they acted quickly. But there’s a bit of Taliban ineptitude here, because they managed to kill in three attacks around the country 35 of their people with minimal result.

JEFFREY BROWN: And what of those other attacks around the country? Because we have just been focusing on Kabul. What can you tell us about the other targets?

PATRICK QUINN: Well, the other targets were provincial capitals in the east, Nangarhar, Paktia, areas where the Taliban and the insurgency are active at this point.

That entire eastern frontier with Pakistan is highly active. Winter has gone. The spring is here. The fighting season has started. These are people who are coming over from Pakistan. These are people who have done nothing in the winter. They’re infiltrating. They’re active in the east.

The next big campaign for the United States, the NATO forces, is going to be in the east. The south is going to be involved in the consolidation process. So it’s not surprising that all the attacks happened in the east. Kabul is in the east.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Patrick Quinn in Kabul, thanks so much.

PATRICK QUINN: Thank you, and good night.