After Obama Slips into Afghanistan Under Cover of Darkness, Taliban Attack at Dawn

Obama chats with Ryan Crocker aboard a helicopter en route to Karzai's palace for the midnight signing ceremony. (White House photo)

Despite ongoing claims from the military that “progress” is being made in Afghanistan (but see this post for a direct contradiction to the claim violence fell 9% in 2011), the reality of the fragile security situation in Afghanistan dictated that President Obama’s trip to Afghanistan to sign the Strategic Partnership Agreement (which commits to exactly nothing) had to be unannounced and under cover of darkness. Obama and Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai signed the agreement around midnight in Karzai’s palace and then Obama left after a short visit with US troops at Bagram.

Just hours after Obama left before dawn on Wedesday morning, the Taliban attacked the Green Village around 6 am local time, killing at least seven people. This compound houses many foreign workers. Although the Taliban are claiming the attack was a direct response to Obama’s visit, it also seems likely the attack had been planned before the visit was known since it occurred on the one year anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan (which Obama could not visit now, even under cover of darkness, and especially on the anniversary of bin Laden’s death).

The readiness and capabilities of Afghan security forces lie at the center of both the Strategic Partnership Agreement and the Taliban’s attack Wednesday morning. At the same time that Obama and Karzai signed their agreement that rests on Afghanistan taking the lead for security as the US exits, the Taliban attacked one of the primary housing compounds for foreign workers in the nation’s capital, just two weeks after another brazen attack in Kabul. If Afghan security forces are seen as unable to prevent attacks on foreigners in the capital, then there could be serious fallout for groups that would be anticipated to be necessary for the “rebuilding” phase once US troops are gone.

Groups trying to asses just how bad the attack was this morning will find confusing information. This report by AP claims the attackers made it inside the walls of the protected area:

The violence began around 6 a.m. in eastern Kabul with a series of explosions and gunfire ringing out from the privately guarded compound known as Green Village that houses hundreds of international contractors.

Shooting and blasts shook the city for hours as militants who had stormed into the compound held out against security forces, according to an official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.


The Green Village complex, with its towering blast walls and heavily armed security force, is very similar in appearance to NATO bases in the city. An Associated Press reporter at the scene saw a group of Afghan soldiers enter the Green Village compound, after which heavy shooting could be heard coming from inside.

In contrast, this report from Reuters states that the attackers did not make it inside the compound:

Hundreds of police and intelligence agency troops surrounded the area around Green Village after the attack. Ruined cars were seen in front of the compound gates but officials said no attackers made it inside the heavily guarded complex.

But Reuters then goes on to cite Taliban claims of making it inside the compound, stating that Taliban claims are often overblown. However, they follow that by describing fighting that witnesses inside the compound claim to have seen:

The Taliban’s Mujahid maintained fighters had made it inside the compound and inflicted “very heavy casualties”. The Islamist group often exaggerates accounts of attacks involving foreign troops or Afghan government targets.

A spokesman for the NATO-led coalition force said the attack had been put down. Western witnesses inside the compound said Afghan commandos killed the attackers, with direction from Norwegian special forces.

If aid groups feel that they are not safe inside the Green Village even before US forces leave Afghanistan, it is very hard to see how they will want to be present once only Afghan forces are in charge of security. An outflow of aid groups would appear to be yet another potential route for Obama’s Afghanistan plan to be in ruins just in time for the November election.

24 replies
  1. Jim White says:

    An AFP story in Dawn:

    Moreover, the Taliban announced earlier today their “spring offensive” that is they say will begin across Afghanistan on Thursday.

    Code-named al Farouq, the primary targets of the offensive would be “foreign invaders, their advisors, their contractors, all those who help them militarily and in intelligence”, the militants said on their website.

    “Al Farouq spring offensive will be launched on May 3 all over Afghanistan,” the militant group said.

    Again, targeting contractors may turn out to be a pivotal strategy for the Talban.

  2. MadDog says:

    “…Obama and Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai signed the agreement around midnight in Karzai’s palace…”

    I thought Karzai looked like he had just gotten out of bed.

    I wonder if that signed Strategic Partnership Agreement also included an attachment approving a Karzai US green card request. Something tells me that the Mayor of Kabul’s days in office are running out.

  3. bsbafflesbrains says:

    It seems like all our foreign policy decisions are being directed by the same people who run the financial system with similar results.

  4. ondelette says:

    Doesn’t it depend on which aid groups go, whether or not this is a good thing? There are certainly a lot of groups that are there just for their own interests and aren’t really doing a lot of good. But some are. And if those latter go, it won’t be a good thing, will it? Don’t let your objectives overshadow that the best goal is to heal Afghanistan, not to smack either Obama or the U.S. The Taliban are assholes, many of them. So are many of the assorted warlords, corrupt officials, Pakistani agents, and others.

    People like Bashardost (e.g.) are hard to find, and harder to support. And aid organizations who know what they’re doing, much the same. It doesn’t do Afghanistan too much good to return it to the status quo ante if anyone even remembers what that is, because that is neither its natural state, nor a desirable state. It had 3 million refugees and 1 million IDPs when the U.S. bombers arrived in 2001, and was at war, or don’t you remember? In 1977, it was at peace.

    Be careful who you cheer for.

  5. bsbafflesbrains says:

    @ondelette: Unless serious solutions addressing tribalism (like Biden’s division of Iraq e.g.) nothing long lasting can come from any outside influence (military or otherwise). “At peace” is a relative term in a region that has been in conflict for longer than history has records. When were the Pashtun’s at peace with the Afghans?

  6. Bill Michtom says:

    “The Islamist group often exaggerates accounts of attacks involving foreign troops or Afghan government targets.”

    This is as opposed to the always accurate accounts of the “allies,” for instance, that there have been no civilian deaths from drone strikes.

    It’s tough to know what’s happening when the “enemy” consistently misleads the US public.

  7. Jim White says:

    @ondelette: I don’t pretend to be in a position to be able to say which groups are good and which are bad. All that I know with certainty is that zero net good can come to the people of Afghanistan or the people of the US by a continued presence of US troops. Seven more people, most of them civilians, are dead today simply because the US is present.

    Yes, departure will leave a hellhole with lots of assholes jockeying for position and killing lots of civilians in the process. But the US has lost all moral authority for saying anything about what Afghanistan’s government should be moving forward. We just need to issue a blanket apology for breaking the country and get the hell out. Paying reparations would be great; finding a mechanism for that to happen with even a tiny fraction of the funds going for good will be next to impossible but worth trying.

    The assholes I’m concerned about are the ones in our government and military who insist on claiming that we are making “progress” and that anything resembling peace will exist once we leave. It is both intellectually and morally depraved to make those claims and I will continue to point that out, even as they destroy both Afghanistan and the US in their stubborn refusal to face reality and their moral failings.

  8. bsbafflesbrains says:

    @Jim White: You could argue we lost our “moral authority” when the Pentagon Papers were published; this “mission” is for profit purposes only. Nation building with Marines and Drones always will fail. Did you hear that Afghanistan had it’s best poppy crop ever last year? Moral authority has left the building.

  9. ondelette says:

    @bsbafflesbrains: This is bullshit. You see what you want to see. You want the status quo ante to be perpetual tribal conflict because that fits your theories of how to wash your hands properly. That’s all. We can stay or we can leave, and perhaps nothing we do will return the place to peace anymore. But don’t kid yourself that there never was peace there so that you are doing a far far better thing than anyone you oppose. You are just another faction acting selfishly.

  10. ondelette says:

    @Jim White:
    Actually, Jim, 7 civilians are dead because the Taliban committed a war crime. That’s what it’s called when you deliberately target civilians.

    “Persons taking no active part in the hostilities…shall in all circumstances be treated humanely,…
    To this end, the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:
    (a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds,…”
    (Article 3, Geneva Conventions of 1949)

    What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

  11. lysias says:

    My fellow Americans, we’ve travelled through more than a decade under the dark cloud of war. Yet here, in the pre-dawn darkness of Afghanistan, we can see the light of a new day on the horizon.

    Can you say, “light at the end of the tunnel”?

  12. bsbafflesbrains says:

    @ondelette: I’m mostly an Historian and I see the history of the tribes in that region.
    I don’t see what “solution” or “peace plan” Obama thinks they have for the region without addressing tribalism and the conflicts that go back before the several attempts at conquering or colonization from the outside. I hope for peace everywhere but Obama represents Capitalism first and Capitalism wants a pipeline to the sea and access to the mineral wealth of Afghanistan (Lithium deposits for batteries).
    Westerners have been oversimplifying the realities of this region since Alexander. Obama does not seem to really care about peace for the indigenous people but rather security for the status quo.

  13. ondelette says:

    @bsbafflesbrains: I think you suffer from quite a lot of non-history, quite frankly. Maybe because history isn’t written until the facts are cold and you aren’t dealing with cold facts. I have friends who went to school with Afghans during peacetime, not so long ago in our lives, maybe long ago in the experience of Americans, who look at a place when they arrive and decide that that’s the way it’s always been, especially if they can quote a racist British poet or two.

    I’m not oversimplifying anything over there, you are. Tribal describes the area in the black and the white mountains, and up near central Asia well, large parts of Afghanistan have remained stable over large spans of time. There have often been splits between Kandahar and Kabul or al Khwarizm and the Tughlug or Moghals or whatever but there have also been long periods when the region was very unified under Timurlane or under the Moghals or under the Mongols or under the Kushans or any number of other groups.

    As for the rest of your piece, you’ve ascribed quite a bit of motive, and laid quite a bit at the feet of mineral wealth that may or may not have been the motive of the beginning of the war, or even of the U.S. involvement. Having been around for the beginning of the Soviet invasion, I do recall the fear of a hostile Islamic Republic on their southern flank having something to do with it. And then I do recall an attack on New York having to do with the beginning of the American involvement there, so I’d say you aren’t half the historian you seem to be, especially as the lithium ion battery became a commercially viable entity in 1997 with ample resources in South America and nobody would have gone to war for its resources in 2001. Its resources aren’t an endangered species now, either. Did you know that the Li+ battery was actually developed because it’s resource was plentiful, required no mining, wasn’t poisonous, and was rechargeable? Kinda weird that you actually think you can ascribe a war to it. Shows how being science ignorant warps your world.

    People who are constantly trying to find a capitalist motive for every engagement the U.S. is in are fools. And people “from the outside” who see a bunch of primitive tribes wherever they go because they come there when the peace has already been completely destroyed are also fools, even if they carry the title “Historian”.

  14. bsbafflesbrains says:

    @ondelette: I am not commenting about your positions, they are admirable but I stand by the fact that Capitalists who run our U.S. government wanted a war and (granted lithium alone not a good example) to exploit Afghanistan for profits. I work daily with our soldiers who suffer from this “mission” and my point is Obama said a bunch of bullshit and does not really care about people and I hold not a slim hope that things will get better for Afghanistan while the plutocracy that runs our financial system is calling the shots. I don’t know if you understand my original point but I think you are very knowledgeable and obviously care in your heart; I do too even if I can’t convince you.
    I got the lithium info from the NYTimes not a reliable source I know.
    WASHINGTON — The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials.

  15. leftwinghook says:

    @ondelette: Here you are again, talking out of your ass. There are over $1 trillion dollars worth of lithium deposits in Afghanistan. Lithium has been described as the mineral of the future. If the US doesn’t get to it, China will. The difference between the US and China, however, is that the US will kill anyone, including women and children, to get resources, whereas the Chinese will just rip you off. That’s one of the various reasons we’re still in Afghanistan. You’re just another phony know nothing liberal who gets involved in other country’s affairs and screws thing up much worse than if you had just let the damn native people decide their own destiny for themselves. You, a phony liberal with all the creature comforts of a western nation have some incredible gall to try to “civilize” a country that has been bombed, raped, and destroyed for 200 years straight with nary a break in sight. You are a lover of war crimes, and you are marked as thus.

  16. Kathleen says:

    Wrote to my friend after Obama’s speech who is from Afghanistan and was studying here in the U.S. on a Fulbright for three years. Hundreds of hours of conversations about his family, country, religious beliefs. His has worked in the Karzai government.
    Here is his response to my question about Obama’s speech:
    “Regarding the Obama speech, we are glad for the signing strategic partnership agreement with the US. Afghanistan is located in a very sensitive region with two main regional powers, Pakistan and Iran, always want to keep Afghanistan politically and economically weak country in the region. Suppose Afghanistan rejects to sign strategic partnership with the US based on its moral obligation to care of the regional political sensitivities, but the Pakistan and Iran would not understand and appreciate this sacrifice. The only point they know is to fight for their political powers at the region. Therefore, Pakistan tries to use Taliban as a political tool in the region to put forward their internal interest in the region. We need a strong country like US to protect us from the regional distablizers.

    However, Afghanistan still needs to fight for its political and economical better condition in the future. The desired outcomes will not be gain soon. It needs decades.”

  17. P J Evans says:

    But that wasn’t the motive claimed at the time; the mineral resources line has only appeared in public in the last two or three years. (Also, the Afghans are quite competent as fighters. They broke the Soviet army, two British armies, and Alexander the Great’s army, just off the top of my head, before breaking ours.)

  18. ondelette says:

    @leftwinghook: Horseshit.

    You aren’t smart enough to understand lithium or foreign policy, so please don’t try to categorize me. I actually don’t believe it’s the mineral of the future, and there are large deposits of it in the Andes that will last for a very long time. And there isn’t a credible way you can construct a casus belli for Afghanistan from it. But feel free to lay it out.

    My previous points were two: 1) What the Taliban did was a war crime. 2) Withdrawal is not likely to produce a happy situation so it should be admitted that it will not, instead of concocting a false history to try to prove that the situation it leaves behind is “natural”. Proponents of withdrawal should be honest, and not pretend that Rudyard Kipling is a revered scholar of history. He wasn’t, he was a racist propagandist for the British Empire.

  19. bsbafflesbrains says:

    @ondelette: You would sound smarter if you eliminated the ad hominem from your argument. It is fallacious and most likely not true.

  20. spanishinquisition says:

    @ondelette: “The Taliban are assholes, many of them. So are many of the assorted warlords, corrupt officials…”

    Sounds like DC

  21. Procopius says:

    @leftwinghook: Maybe my reading comprehension needs a little work, but I understand that report to say that the total value of mineral deposits found (not necessarily accesible) was $1 trillion. I can’t find the link now, but I recall when the report was first published by the NYT in 2010 someone pointed out that the report had actually been released in 2003, but it was being presented as a new report as a means of justifying the American involvement. As I recall, more information has never been made available, it was just a quick, “Oh, hey, and we can all get rich from the vast mineral wealth there, too.” Just like Iraqi oil was going to pay for our invasion.

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