Matthias Gebauer / Der Spiegel & News24.com / South Africa – 2007-02-28 00:58:01
Not a Good Omen for Afghanistan
Matthias Gebauer / Der Spiegel online
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (February 27, 2007) — It may have been little more than a ‘loud bang’ for US Vice President Dick Cheney. But it signals that the Taliban may be much more sophisticated than thought. And that more may be yet to come.
The suicide blast outside the US military base in Bagram seemed timed to send a message to the Western allies.
US Vice President Dick Cheney took his explosive morning in stride. Arriving in Oman at lunchtime on Tuesday following his brief visit to Kabul, Cheney told of his adventure at Bagram Air Base a few hours earlier. He had been sitting in his room, located in an ultra-secure section of the largest US military base in Afghanistan. Cheney reported he heard a “loud bang” at about 10 a.m., adding that Secret Service agents briefly took him to a bunker before he continued working.
Yet what sounds almost harmless in Cheney’s account was far from it — rather it was a massive and hitherto unheard of attack near the US military base, located about 60 kilometers (37 miles) north of Kabul. Despite countless checkpoints on the road to Bagram, the attacker managed to drive his carload of explosives all the way to the base’s outermost security perimeter. T
he bomb in his car caused a tremendous explosion that could be seen from kilometers away. In addition to the attacker himself, the bomb killed at least 12 Afghans — and possibly more — in addition to two international soldiers, though casualty reports varied widely.
Not even an hour had passed before the radical Islamists from the Taliban had proudly taken credit for the attack. Their myriad press spokesmen went into action, contacting wire services by sat-phone make sure credit was given where credit was due.
“We knew Cheney had remained at the base overnight,” said Kari Yousef Ahmadi, adding that “our man wanted to get through to him and kill him.” As if to prove his words, Ahmadi also cited the identity of the attacker. It is still unclear, however, whether the identity given is correct.
But even if the Taliban’s claims don’t prove 100 percent accurate, the incident on Tuesday morning is disconcerting news for the troops in Afghanistan. “The fact that the attacker was able to get all the way to the gate troubles us,” says a NATO officer. “But we’re even more startled by how much the Taliban know.”
It was clearly “a planned attack,” the officer said, since the planners knew “that Cheney was still in the base” — and even if the goal was not achieved, the message was understood.
The details of the attack bespeak a new, hitherto unknown logistical skill on the part of the Taliban. Cheney’s visit was shrouded in secrecy from the beginning with reporters travelling with him being asked to observe embargoes on revealing the Vice President’s whereabouts.
The fact that Cheney had to cancel a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai — originally scheduled for Monday evening — because of strong snowfall and spend the night in Bagram only became known on Monday evening.
Observers see a clear sign that the Taliban now dispose of a well-organized information network that allows them to track the movements of prominent political decision-makers like Cheney. “Of course plenty of information is available via the Internet,” the NATO officer said, “but you need to be able to use that tool.”
This was apparently what happened in the case of the attack on Bagram Air Base, the officer added, claiming there is no other way of “explaining the exact timing.” It’s hardly appropriate to continue characterizing the Taliban as simple guerrilla soldiers, in the officer’s view.
6,000 Suicide Attackers Ready to Strike
The spontaneity of the attack also gives new weight to the threats issued by Taliban. For weeks now, the radical group have used propaganda videos to announce the training of thousands of suicide attackers, ready to jump into action as soon as the snow melts in Afghanistan.
Until now, the threats had seemed exaggerated. But given that Cheney’s whereabouts could only have been known just a short time prior to the actual attack, the threats now seem more credible.
Especially active on the propaganda front is Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah. The fighter even recently invited reporters from the Arab TV station al-Jazeera to visit him in the mountains near Kandahar. After presenting his troops, Dadullah — noted for his brutality — said he had 6,000 men ready to carry out suicide attacks.
As if to prove the claim, his propaganda videos repeatedly show young Afghans and Arabs signing their names on lists and announcing they are prepared to sacrifice their lives for Dadullah.
The new Taliban strategy is partly the product of the bitter lessons learned last year. The Taliban suffered heavy losses in 2006, especially during the last months of the year. Previously, their guerrilla troops had been able to seize entire villages in the south of the country. Then, almost 3,000 Taliban died during NATO air attacks in late 2006. “The Taliban can no longer afford large numbers of casualties and loss of equipment,” says Afghanistan expert Raimullah Yusufzai, “so they’re opting for the cheaper option of suicide attacks.”
Last year, there were 139 such attacks in Afghanistan. Western intelligence agencies say that is a five-fold increase on the previous year. Even prior to Tuesday’s attack, the new commander of US forces in Afghanistan David Rodriguez said he expected a further jump in deadly suicide attacks this year.
The well-timed attack on Bagram Air Base seems to mark the beginning of what could become a bloody spring in Afghanistan.
Taliban ‘Knew of Cheney Visit’
News24.com / South Africa
ISLAMABAD< Pakistan (February 27, 2007)— A suicide attack at an Afghan air base where US vice-president Dick Cheney was staying shows that the Taliban and al-Qaeda have penetrated local intelligence agencies, analysts and officials said.
The blast early on Tuesday at Bagram air base near Kabul also highlights the increasing sophistication of the extremist outfits as they prepare for a feared spring offensive against Western troops, they said.
The day before the explosion Cheney warned President Pervez Musharraf of neighbouring Pakistan to crack down on militants regrouping in Pakistan's tribal areas to mount attacks across the border and further afield.
"This shows how much the militants have penetrated the intelligence of the Afghan security forces. It is a most shocking attack," retired Pakistani general turned analyst Talat Masood told AFP.
Cheney’s visits to Pakistan and Afghanistan were unannounced and shrouded in even tighter secrecy than when US President George W Bush travelled to the two countries in March 2006.
Author Ahmed Rashid, who has written a book on the Taliban, said the bombing was a “very provocative” move by the Taliban.
“They were waiting for a high-level visit to carry out an attack. This visit, although highly secretive, was known in circles in Kabul and Islamabad,” he said.
A senior Pakistani counter-terrorism official said the “sophisticated” attack “indicates the militants’ preparedness and the quality of their intelligence collection in the run-up to the so-called spring offensive”.
He added: “They must have had information (a) few days before that the US vice-president would be in town and stay at Bagram. This is not something you can plan with 12 hours notice.”
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