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Thursday
Jun302011

Thoughts on the Attack on the Intercontinental in Kabul

Another spectacular attack in Kabul.  And as usual media is running in the same circles.  As I've often said, I'm bored of Afghanistan and I recommend people get their analysis from people with a genuine passion for the place like Joshua Foust, Gilles Dorronsoro, and the Afghanistan Analysts Network.  But let me correct a few obvious things I don't see anyone else mentioning:

  • The Intercon was popular with foreigners?  No it was not.  They stay their because of a lot of lacklustre security thinking (see below), but don't socialise there.  It's boring, there's no booze, and the general purpose of an expat going is a very dull meeting with an usually corrupt offical/businessman/both.  The Intercon is of key significance for the Afghan élite however and is regarded as the key place to have a wedding, reception, etc. by that set.  A major reason I didn't hang out there was the shameful and robust display of corruption by said élite. (I could go on about foreigners but that's a different piece.) The average Taliban member might not distinguish this so well, but a lot of planning goes into an operation like this, so for me it is conceivable that the Taliban will say publically that "50 high-ranking foreigners were killed" while still sending a very unnerving signal to the Afghan élite.
  • The targeting of the hotel was therefore much nuanced than what's presented.  It's a strike at the Afghan élite (with a major political event in the form of a governors' conference scheduled to happen the next day no less), and embarrassment of the Afghan security forces, and by proxy an embarrassment of NATO, foreigners, and the political strategies they're using.  This strategy has been apparent before in the instance of a 2010 attack on a PSC guesthouse in Taimani.  The PSC was a legitimate military target but it's location in a neighbourhood where many NGOs and contractors are based sent a clear message about the dangers of co-mingling.
  • The fact that the Intercon was cleared by so many security advisors is further evidence for my contention that the security industry is a scam.  It's a high-profile location that is not only a likely target itself, but also likely to host any number of high-value targets on a given occasion.
  • I have a hard time understanding what "heavily guarded" means.  True, there were a lot of checkpoints, but bad management and lack of enthusiasm typically dent the efficacy of such measures in Afghanistan.  I'm not in a position to know the specifics of the security arrangement at the Intercon, but we could use more reporting on what they were.
  • I'm intrigued that the Taliban claimed responsibility but the attack might have been perpetrated by the Haqqani Network (it did bear resemblance to earlier HN attacks on the Serena and Indian Embassy).  The two groups have often worked at cross purposes before and it would be interesting to see if this were genuine coordination or if it's one trying to trump the other for leadership of the Taliban movement.  Again, I'm not on the ground and am taking a break from Afghanistan so I'll not pretend to have the answer.
Thursday
Jun032010

News Fail: Reporting Afghan public opinion

recent story on Aljazeera reminded me how difficult it is to gauge public opinion and its potential consequences in Afghanistan.  While such stories may be accurate on the protest’s specific details or the immediate impetus, they fail to contextualize the story in such a way that non-expert readers can appreciate its implications.  The greater issue with Afghan public opinion on any issue is how disjointed it is and how it is intertwined with events that may or may not have happened.

Read more.